International Polar Bear Forum: Range countries must commit to a conservation strategy with teeth

According to our best estimates, more than 400 polar bears are indiscriminately killed each year for their fur and parts. And every polar bear removed from the population is one less animal able to reproduce and help build the next generation.

At the international Polar Bear Forum in Moscow this week, foreign dignitaries and non-governmental organizations are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the “Agreement on the Conservation of the Polar Bear” – a multinational treaty signed by all five polar bear range countries at a time when hunting had pushed the species to dangerously low numbers. 

Despite the good intentions of the agreement, current predictions are that within the next 40 years polar bear populations will decline by two-thirds, leaving only six or seven thousand such individuals wandering the Artic.  

Also on IFAW.org: On International Polar Bear Day, ask why 400 more should die

At the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), one of only five non-governmental organizations at the polar bear forum, we are urging decision-makers to rally on behalf of the polar bear once more, and carve out a new conservation strategy to protect this iconic species from the multiple threats it faces today: climate change, pollution from oil and gas exploration, human-wildlife conflict and commercial exploitation—hunting for profit.

Given the seriousness of the overall threats to polar bears, IFAW has been particularly outspoken against the needless hunting of polar bears.

According to our best estimates, more than 400 polar bears are indiscriminately killed each year for their fur and parts. And every polar bear removed from the population is one less animal able to reproduce and help build the next generation.

In addition to supporting a coalition call for continuing global efforts to address climate change, IFAW is calling for increased protections for individual animals through policy changes, bans on international trade in polar bear parts and strong enforcement to reduce the number of polar bears killed for illegal trade.

Earlier this year, IFAW’s Russia office conducted an extensive study to monitor the Russian language Internet for advertisements of sale and purchase of a number of endangered or threatened animal derivatives.

In a month’s span, a total of 75 advertisements were found for selling/buying polar bear parts and derivatives, mostly pelts and carpets made of pelts.

There were three advertisements about selling live bear cubs. “Tame bear cubs for sale. 1 month old. Ideal for taming and training” and “Polar bear cubs from a European nursery. Documents.” An advertisement for exclusive furniture in particular makes me cringe: “Polar bear sofa. Oak, polar bear pelt, python skin, bronze, carving, orca teeth.” 

These examples are just anecdotal. Many of the items could have came from bears legally killed or captured with quota permits in Canada, the only country still allowing commercial kills of polar bears. However, the ads verify an on-going polar bear market in Russia, a country plagued by polar bear poaching.

Globally the demand is increasing and wealthy collectors are willing to pay extraordinary amounts for dead polar bears.

From 2007 to 2012, there was a 375 percent increase in the number of polar bear skins offered at auction in Canada. 

And, this summer in Canada, a pelt went for $22,000 (CAD), an astounding 50 percent increase compared to a price paid for a similar product the previous year.

A November survey found one polar bear pelt on offer for $64,000 (CAD).

Coming out of the International Polar Bear Forum in Moscow, we must establish a new broader vision for polar bear conservation. 

The global community must continue to find ways to reduce climate emissions, and in the meantime we must also eliminate all other threats to polar bears – including unsustainable hunting for commercial exploitation.  This will require difficult choices, meaningful policy changes and a commitment to enforcement in both polar bear range and consumer countries.

The 1973 Agreement on the Conservation of the Polar Bear should be celebrated as a visionary step for polar bear conservation at the time it was enacted. 

Today however the threats are broader, more complex, and perhaps even more drastic.  Our corresponding strategies to address them must be equally aggressive. This is how we will ensure that the polar bear not only survives another four decades, but flourishes.

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Azzedine Downes,Executive Vice President for International Operations, VP of P
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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
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Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
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Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Regional Director, Russia & CIS
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Kelvin Alie, Programme Director, Wildlife Trade
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Peter Pueschel, Director, International Environmental Agreements
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Tania McCrea-Steele, Campaigns and Enforcement Manager, IFAW UK
Campaigns and Enforcement Manager, IFAW UK
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
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