While there are only an estimated 20,000-25,000 polar bears currently remaining in the wild, each year, more than 400 polar bears are unnecessarily killed for commercial trade. We at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) are looking to put a stop to this pointless and wasteful practice.
Canada, which is home to 15,000 of the world’s existing bears, is the only country in the world where polar bears are legally hunted for international commercial trade and sport. As many as 440 polar bears are slain each year in the name of profit. While climate change-fueled habitat loss remains polar bears’ biggest threat, international trade calling for their paws, teeth and skulls is higher than ever before.
Unfortunately, growing international demand for polar bear parts has lead to a major increase in polar bear hunting—the second biggest threat to the species. From 2007 to 2012, we witnessed a 375 percent increase in the number of polar bear skins offered at auction, with their hides fetching record high prices in 2012.
Starting this week, countries from around the world will gather at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), where protection for polar bears will be an important topic of discussion. The United States, with support from the Russian Federation, is proposing prohibiting international commercial polar bear trade by uplisting the animals to Appendix I—the highest level of protection a species can receive.
An uplisting of the polar bear to Appendix I will outlaw international commercial trade of the polar bear –- thereby eliminating one of the most easily reversible threats to the species.
It is up to the 176 countries that comprise the Parties to the Convention (CoP) to ratify the U.S.’s proposal at the CITES meeting in Thailand. Only an all-out ban on unsustainable, international commercial polar bear trade will provide the protection the species needs to roam their habitat for years to come.
Polar bears are not souvenirs. They are an iconic, beautiful species that is rapidly disappearing. An uplisting is one of the best things we can do for them.
Jeffrey Flocken is North American Regional Director, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)