Wildlife Groups Commend the United States for Seeking to Halt Polar Bear Trade

Friday, 16 October, 2009
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Humane Society International and Defenders of Wildlife today commended the United States for submitting a proposal to next year’s meeting of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to stop the international trade in polar bears. The meeting is set for March 13-25 in Doha, Qatar.

“On May 8, 2009, Sec. Salazar said that he and President Obama were fully committed to protecting polar bears, and that we must do everything we can to eliminate all threats to the species,” said Jeff Flocken, IFAW Washington, D.C. Office Director. “With this laudable action, they are making good on that commitment. By uplisting the species at the next CITES conference, the U.S. will help prevent the deaths of hundreds of polar bears killed needlessly for the commercial market.”

There are presently between 20,000 and 25,000 polar bears, and the number is decreasing.

“By submitting this proposal, the United States is, once again, leading the way to save this magnificent species from extinction. International trade in polar bear parts and products is exacerbating the devastating impact that climate change is already having on the polar bear. We should not be making rugs out of polar bears at a time when they are threatened with extinction,” said Teresa M. Telecky, Ph.D., Director of Wildlife, Humane Society International.

Polar bears are completely dependent on sea ice, which they use for hunting prey, reproduction and movement. Ongoing atmospheric pollution is causing oceanic and atmospheric warming, leading to reductions in sea ice. Some scientists have concluded that polar bears will not survive past the end of this century due to the complete loss of summer sea ice.

In addition to hunting trophies, polar bear parts — skin, fur, claws, skulls and even stuffed bears — enter international commercial trade. More than 500 polar bear skins are traded annually; most come from Canada and most go to Japan.

In 2008, the United States listed the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. This ended the importation to the United States of trophies of polar bears killed by American sport hunters. Although hunters from other countries can still import trophies, the United States was by far the largest importer and American trophy hunters had driven this large-scale commercial killing.

“While we cannot stop the impacts of global warming on polar bears immediately, one thing we can do is quickly address other threats which are heightening the bear's problems, such as the commercial trade. By increasing protections for polar bears under CITES, we can start to give the polar bear some more protections while we take the necessary steps to address global warming,” said Rodger Schlickeisen, President, Defenders of Wildlife.

The proposal would transfer the polar bear from CITES Appendix II, which allows regulated international commercial trade, to Appendix I, which prohibits all international commercial trade in the listed species. The purpose of CITES is to prevent over-exploitation of species through international trade.

The Appendix I designation would mean that countries agree to prohibit international trade for primarily commercial purposes and thus ensure that international trade will not contribute to the ongoing decrease in polar bear numbers. Appendix I listing will not affect native subsistence hunting or use of polar bears.

 As the world's leading animal welfare organization, IFAW works from its global headquarters in the United States and 16 country offices to improve the welfare of wild and domestic animals by reducing the commercial exploitation of animals, protecting wildlife habitats, and assisting animals in distress. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW works both on the ground and in the halls of government to safeguard wild and domestic animals and seeks to motivate the public to prevent cruelty to animals and to promote animal welfare and conservation policies that advance the well-being of both animals and people. To learn how you can help, please visit ifaw.org.

Humane Society International and its partner organizations together constitute one of the world's largest animal protection organizations — backed by 11 million people. For nearly 20 years, HSI has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty worldwide — On the web at hsi.org. Follow HSI on Twitter.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native 3.0animals and plants in their natural communities.  With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come.  For more information, visit defenders.org.

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