International ban on polar bear trade rejected

March 7, 2013 by Amelie Bottollier-Depois
Polar bears stand on Russia's Wrangel island on October 2003. A major meeting of governments on threats to endangered species rejected a ban on international trade in polar bears amid fears it would distract from the bigger threat of global warming.

A major meeting of governments on threats to endangered species on Thursday rejected a ban on international trade in polar bears amid fears it would distract from the bigger threat of global warming.

The proposal had divided conservationists, who agree that the main risk to the world's largest carnivorous land animal comes from habitat loss but differ over whether international trade also puts the bears at risk of extinction.

Polar bears are widely seen as the animal on the front line of global warming and will be hit-hard by melting polar ice caps.

But the debate among the 178 member nations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting in Bangkok focused on the additional threat to the species posed by its international trade.

"The polar bear is facing a grim future, and today brought more bad news," Dan Ashe, head of the US delegation which proposed the ban. He warned the polar bear population could decline by two-thirds by 2050.

"The continued harvest of polar bears to supply the commercial international trade is not sustainable," Ashe said.

The ban was rejected by 42 votes to 38, with 46 abstentions among the nations who participated in the poll in Bangkok.

The proposal, which needed support from a two-third majority, can be re-examined at a plenary session of the 178 CITES member nations next week. A similar bid was unsuccessful at the last CITES meeting in 2010.

Graphic fact file on polar bears
Graphic fact file on polar bears. A major meeting of governments on threats to endangered species on Thursday rejected a ban on international trade in polar bears amid fears it would distract from the bigger threat of global warming.

Polar bears are prized for their skins—particularly in Russia—as well as other body parts such as skulls, claws and teeth.

The animals are currently listed on Annex II of CITES, which imposes strict controls over their international trade.

About half of the roughly 800 polar bears killed each year end up in the international trade, mostly wild bears from Canada, according to expert estimates cited by the US.

The United States, Canada, Russia, Denmark (Greenland) and Norway host a global population of 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears.

But even some major conservation organisations such as Traffic and WWF declined to support the US proposal for a complete ban on international trade, saying climate change is a far bigger threat.

According to the WWF, "habitat loss from climate warming, not international trade, is the primary driver" of an expected population decline.

Canada, which hosts the largest portion of the global population of polar bears and is the only country that still exports polar bear parts, opposes a ban.

It cites the need to preserve the traditions of the Inuit, an indigenous minority living mostly in the north of the country.

"The polar bear advances strong emotion. It is an iconic symbol of the Arctic," said Canadian delegate Basile Van Havre.

Canada "is committed to the protection of the species but that doesn't mean that emotion should be guiding criteria for decision making here nor for the proper management of the species", he added.

Inuit parliamentarian Tagak Curley told the conference his people had "a unique relation with polar bears".

"Modern management has been in place for more than 40 years. During this time the population of polar bears in Canada has more than doubled," he said.

"Our identity as Inuit would be weaker without the polar bear. We are connected to the polar bears in a very special way."

Some campaign groups did however support an international ban, along with Russia, which says sky-high prices—up to $50,000 for a pelt in its country—encourages poaching of its own polar bears.

Explore further: Russia to make polar bear hunting legal

Related Stories

Russia to make polar bear hunting legal

April 16, 2007

The Russian government is set to allow residents in the town of Vankarem to legally hunt polar bears that have been moving into the region.

Polar bear ban defeated at UN conservation meeting

March 18, 2010

(AP) -- A U.S.-backed proposal to ban the international trade of polar bear skins, teeth and claws was defeated Thursday at a U.N. wildlife meeting over concerns it would hurt indigenous economies and arguments the practice ...

Recommended for you

Researchers design first artificial ribosome

July 29, 2015

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Northwestern University have engineered a tethered ribosome that works nearly as well as the authentic cellular component, or organelle, that produces all the proteins ...

Studies reveal details of error correction in cell division

July 29, 2015

Cell biologists led by Thomas Maresca at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with collaborators elsewhere, report an advance in understanding the workings of an error correction mechanism that helps cells detect and ...

Researchers discover new type of mycovirus

July 29, 2015

Researchers, led by Dr Robert Coutts, Leverhulme Research Fellow from the School of Life and Medical Sciences at the University of Hertfordshire, and Dr Ioly Kotta-Loizou, Research Associate at Imperial College, have discovered ...

Stressed out plants send animal-like signals

July 29, 2015

University of Adelaide research has shown for the first time that, despite not having a nervous system, plants use signals normally associated with animals when they encounter stress.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.