Record setting $22,000 polar bear skin is no cause for celebration
Like the endangered bluefin tuna that sold for $1.76 million at auction earlier this year, the record-shattering price paid recently - $22,000 CAD - for a dead polar bear has captured the media’s attention.
While the fur industry celebrates the occasion, for conservationists this record-shattering price demonstrates a dangerous “get it before it’s gone” mentality, where scarcity – real, perceived, or anticipated - increases consumer demand and willingness to pay for dead wildlife. This could be a recipe for disaster for the world’s remaining polar bears.
Polar bears are indeed a treasure, but for most of us they are worth far more than the price paid for their skins at an auction house. To say that the “harvest” of polar bears is of no concern overlooks both the available biological data on polar bears and the history of commercial wildlife exploitation on this continent.
When wildlife is reduced to merchandise to be sold to the highest bidder, and international demand is inflated, the free market takes over and does the rest. The end result is often overexploitation, poaching, population reduction and, possibly, extinction.
And while some level of exploitation may be biologically sustainable for smaller, rapidly-reproducing species, for longer-lived, slower-reproducing animals like whales and elephants, they have the added burden of their natural history working against them. For such species, the economic value of their parts increases far more rapidly in a bank than it does in the wild. For those looking for monetary profit from wildlife, it may in fact make economic “sense” to overexploit or even eliminate a species.
The combination of their slow reproductive rates, increased international demand and high prices paid for their skins, and the expected loss of habitat from climate change all point to one conclusion: polar bears should be protected from commercial trade, not persecuted for profit.
A record breaking $22,000 polar bear skin is no cause for celebration. We can only hope it does not mark the beginning of an intensified rush amongst the wealthy to own one of these treasures as a rug or stuffed trophy, which could ultimately mark the polar bear’s doom.