The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Chris Cutter (IFAW - HQ)
Tel: 508.744.2066

Abby Berman
Tel: 646.695.8455

Wildlife Groups Seek Halt to Polar Bear Trade


The International Fund for Animal Welfare, Humane Society International, and Defenders of Wildlife have urged the United States to lead the way to end international commercial trade in polar bears, including hides, trophies, rugs and other polar bear parts. The United States has an opportunity to submit a proposal to stop the trade at next year's meeting of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The meeting is set for 13-25 March in Doha, Qatar.

Polar bears in the wild live entirely within five countries: Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Russian Federation, and the United States. There are presently between 20,000 and 25,000 polar bears and the number is decreasing.

Polar bears are completely dependent on sea ice, which they use for hunting prey, reproduction and movement. Ongoing atmospheric pollution is causing oceanic and atmospheric warming, which is leading to reductions in sea ice. Some scientists have concluded that polar bears will not survive past the end of this century due to the complete loss of summer sea ice.

In 2008, the United States listed the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. This ended the importation to the United States of trophies of polar bears killed by American sport hunters. Although hunters from other countries can still import trophies, the United States was by far the largest importer and American trophy hunters had driven this large-scale commercial killing.

In addition to hunting trophies, polar bear parts-skin, fur, claws, skulls and even stuffed bears-enter international commercial trade. More than 400 polar bear skins are traded annually; most come from Canada and most go to Japan.

The proposal would transfer the polar bear from CITES Appendix II, which allows regulated international commercial trade, to Appendix I, which prohibits all international commercial trade in the listed species. The purpose of CITES is to prevent over-exploitation of species through international trade.

The Appendix I designation would mean that countries agree to prohibit international trade for primarily commercial purposes and thus ensure that international trade will not contribute to the ongoing decrease in polar bear numbers. Appendix I listing will not affect native subsistence hunting or use of polar bears.

The United States must submit the proposal to the CITES Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland, by no later than 14 October 2009. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting comments from the public through September 11.

"We cannot sit on the sidelines and accept the extinction of these iconic and magnificent creatures. The government should be doing everything it can to eliminate all threats to polar bears. By uplisting the species at the next CITES conference, the U.S. could help prevent the deaths of hundreds of polar bears killed needlessly for the commercial market," said Jeff Flocken, DC Office Director, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

"The United States is leading the way in saving this magnificent species from extinction by granting the polar bear protection under the Endangered Species Act. The federal government can continue its leadership for these rare creatures by urging global protection under CITES," said Teresa M. Telecky, Ph.D., Director of Wildlife for Humane Society International

"Polar bears are facing so many threats right now - from global warming to poaching, trophy hunting and commercial trade - that scientists say they could vanish from the United States by the middle of the century. We can't solve all of these threats right away, but we can eliminate the threat of commercial trade. The U.S. can and should take the lead, by submitting a proposal to CITES to uplist the polar bear," said Rodger Schlickeisen, President, Defenders of Wildlife.