EU Rift Threatens Polar Bears

 © IFAW/N. Ovsyanikov
Thursday, 31 January, 2013

Fate of proposal to end the international commercial trade in polar bears parts hinges on key EU member states ahead of Feb 6th decision

Key EU member states remain on the fence as the Feb. 6th deadline looms to decide the common position regarding a prohibit the international commercial trade of polar bear parts by uplisting the animals to Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The International Fund for Animal Welfare ( urges undecided countries such as France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Spain and Portugal to follow the lead of the UK, Germany, Belgium, Austria others in publicly supporting a ban on the international commercial trade in polar bear parts.

EU Environment Ministers are scheduled to meet Feb. 6th in Brussels, Belgium to vote on their common position in advance of the 16th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP16) to CITES, 3-14 Mar. 2013. If a unanimous position can be achieved the EU will vote as a bloc at the CITES meeting. If those countries still on the fence refuse to vote in favour of polar bear conservation the EU will abstain from voting on the proposal at CITES.
With 27 votes the EU plays a pivotal role influencing whether or not proposals are accepted by the 177 Parties to CITES.

“EU Member States need to listen to the science and they need to listen to their citizens - both point very clearly to stopping the international commercial trade in polar bear products," said IFAW EU Director Sonja Van Tichelen.

The proposal to uplist polar bears was submitted by the US with the support of Russia. Canada is the only country that allows legal hunting of polar bears solely for the purpose of international trade and sport. Each year, approximately 600 polar bears are hunted in Canada and on average the parts of 441 are internationally traded.

“Climate change and international commercial trade in polar bear parts are the greatest threats to polar bears. The EU must do everything possible to reduce those threats and protect polar bears from extinction,” continued Van Tichelen. “With a Feb. 6th deadline time is running out for polar bears here in Brussels and in the Arctic – polar bears need all the help they can get from member states who remain undecided such as France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Spain and Portugal.”


• The IUCN Polar Bear Specialists Group (PBSG), which is composed of the world’s foremost polar bear scientists, has put together an insightful app that shows populations, population trends, data deficiencies and more
• According to an Environics Poll commissioned by IFAW and Humane Society International and released this week an overwhelming majority of Canadians support banning the International commercial trade in polar bears in opposition to their government’s position
• The estimated population of polar bears is 20,000-25,000, and 15,000 of those live in Canada.
• Trade is when a specimen crosses an international border.  Includes scientific specimens, zoo animals, exotic pets, sport-hunted trophies, and goods. Commercial trade is when it crosses a border to be sold in another country.
• A transfer to Appendix I of CITES would not prohibit trophy hunting of polar bears or international movement of trophies. First, CITES only governs international trade, so if the polar bear trophy remains in Canada it will not be affected by CITES. Second, CITES does not prohibit international trade of a non-commercial nature, such as the movement of trophies from Canada to other countries. Sport-hunted trophies can be imported so long as the importing and exporting countries issue permits supported by a non-detriment finding proving that it is not a detriment to the species.
• Trophy hunting is not considered commercial trade because the assumption is that the trophy will not be sold in the importing country. Additionally, personal goods and souvenirs are exempted because again, there is an assumption that they will not be sold in the importing country.

Additional information is available on a fact sheet, brief and report


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