After bruising loss, polar bear advocates muster strength for battle ahead

US and Russian governments failed to end the needless killing of polar bears for the international commercial trade in their parts.

On Thursday, March 7th, in Bangkok Thailand, a conservation travesty occurred  when 42 of the countries of the world voted not to grant endangered polar bears much needed protections from over-exploitation by Canadian hunters.

The US and Russian governments valiantly tried – but ultimately failed – to end the needless killing of polar bears for the international commercial trade in their parts at the 16th Conference of the Parties meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (or “CITES”). But despite this bruising loss – which can’t be revisited until another  vote at CITES in three years– there were some pieces of good news that could be picked out from the rubble afterwards.  For example:

  • Russia and the US pulled together a strong-united front for polar bears, and worked as a team to advocate for the US’s proposal to grant the polar bear strong protections from trade.  This could pave the way for collaborations to help save other shared species of concern such as walrus, whales, and salmon, and hopefully more future efforts on behalf of polar bears.
  • The majority of EU countries, including the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary, came out in favor of the US proposal - even though they ultimately abstained during the vote due to the EU mandate to vote as a block.
  • On the heels of the vote, an initiative was launched to get the EU to ban trade in polar bears parts from all declining polar bear populations.
  • Russia, who formerly opposed the uplisting proposal, has now enthusiastically embraced conservation of polar bears, and is planning to elevate the upcoming polar bear meeting in Moscow this November, by inviting high-level government decision-makers, NGO stakeholders, philanthropists, and the world’s top polar bear scientists.
  • In response to the unsuccessful vote, Russia –one of the world’s largest consumers of polar bear skins and trophies – has indicated that they are looking into a total ban on all polar bear products coming into Russia.

Additionally, the US left the meeting enthusiastic about crafting a strategy to bring polar bears back at the next CITES Conference of the Parties, which will be in South Africa in three years. 

Hopefully by then the world will come to its senses and will vote to save polar bears, rather than let another three years go by allowing more needless killing of hundreds of this globally iconic --but gravely imperiled-- species.


For more information about our work at this past CITES CoP 16, visit our news round up here.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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