November 28, 2012
Polar Bears Under Threat: We Must Act Now to Protect Them
by Mark Jones
We all know that polar bears are under threat, that their habitat is melting, that they are suffering from the effects of climate change.
But did you know that it is still legal to commercially trade these magnificent, but vulnerable, animals?
Six hundred polar bears are shot every year in Canada and many of their body parts, including skins, fur, teeth and claws, are then bought and sold on the open market, to satisfy consumer demand.
- A polar bear skin can fetch in the region of £63,000.
- It is estimated that 5,680 polar bears were internationally traded between 2001 and 2010, with Canada exporting more than 3,200 skins, 861 trophies, 284 bodies and five live animals.
- The cost of a polar bear skin on the retail market in Russia is estimated at £63,000 (100,000 USD) and in China at £40,000 (63,000 USD).
- The price of skins at trade auctions has more than doubled from 2007 to 2012.
- In the same period, there was a 375% increase in the number of skins offered at auction – from 40 in 2007 to 150 in 2012.
- According to the US Geological Survey two-thirds of the world's polar bears will be lost by 2050.
- Polar bears currently number 20,000—25,000 individuals worldwide, the population is decreasing and is expected to continue to do so.
- Canada’s population of polar bears is numbered at 15,000. Each year 600 are hunted, and body parts from more than half of those animals find their way to market to be sold commercially.
Polar bears are already under threat of extinction from climate change, making each animal that much more precious and its loss that much more significant.
The irresponsible killing of this threatened species must be stopped now!
The US uplisting proposal
A proposal by the United States, supported by Russia, to increase the protection of polar bears by moving them from Appendix II to Appendix I will be voted on at the upcoming meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP16) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), to be held in March 2013.
It is vital that this proposal receives widespread international support.
A similar proposal was defeated at the last CoP, in 2010. Opposition to the proposal by the 27 Members of the European Union was a crucial factor in this defeat — had the EU voted in favour of the proposal it would have been carried and the polar bear would already be protected.
UK government ministers and officials are discussing this issue now and will be meeting with their European counterparts in the coming weeks to agree a joint position in the next few weeks. The European Union votes as a block at CITES meetings, so the outcome of their deliberations is crucial and the UK can have a large influence on the outcome.
More about CITES
The 16th Conference of the Parties (CoP16) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) will take place in Thailand in March 2013.
The polar bear proposal is one of many due to be discussed at the meeting.
Mark Jones is executive director of Humane Society International/UK.