UK could save the polar bear

Monday, 15 March, 2010
(London, 15 March 2010) – With the EU poised to reject an international proposal for greater protections for the endangered polar bear, the UK has the opportunity to be the nation that makes the difference for this Arctic species.  

Right now at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) conference taking place in Doha, Qatar, the member parties are considering a proposal to list the polar bear on Appendix I of CITES, thereby giving polar bears greater protections and eliminating international commercial trade in polar bear parts and products.

If adopted at CITES the proposal will keep approximately 3,000 polar bears out of commercial trade over the next decade at a time when the species is increasingly threatened by loss of habitat due to global climate change.

“The EU has such an impact at CITES, and it is deeply disappointing that they plan to be an obstacle to greater protection for this iconic species,” said Robbie Marsland, UK Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

“The UK has the chance to make its voice heard and support polar bears which need all the help they can get in the face of the cumulative effects of climate change, commercial trade, poaching and pollution,” said Marsland. “The only responsible action is to reduce any or all of these threats wherever possible.”

A ban on the commercial trade in polar bear parts and products, such as bear skin rugs, will help to reduce pressures on populations already threatened by habitat loss through climate change.

“EU Member States appear to have ignored the precautionary principle in their deliberations on this important proposal to protect polar bears,” said Staci McLennan of the Eurogroup for Animals. “There are only 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears remaining with the latest science predicting the population will decline by two-thirds by 2050. It seems that this species will have to be pushed to the brink of extinction before some governments are prepared to act and ban the unnecessary trade in polar bear skin rugs and other products.”

The European Parliament and reportedly the European Commission both voiced support for the proposal to increase protection for the polar bear. However, their views were over-ruled in a Council meeting held last week in Brussels. There have reportedly been deep divisions among the ranks of the 27 EU Member States on this proposal. The European Union’s opposition to the proposal makes it unlikely that the proposal will gain the necessary support of two-thirds of nations present and voting.

“We hope that the UK will not put the final nail in the coffin of polar bears and instead insist that polar bears are listed on Appendix I,” said Marsland. “They need to convince the EU to open up the polar bear issue for debate again, and persuade the other EU countries to commit to saving the polar bear.”

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