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Conservationists Reject New Protections for Polar Bears

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Another head-scratching moment in the global fight to save endangered species: A proposal to ban international trade in polar bear parts was rejected on Thursday at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or Cites, meeting in Bangkok, Thailand. Yes, you read that correctly: Polar bear parts.

As it stands, polar bear pelts, heads, and other wares currently can be traded as long as the exporting country certifies that the existing harvest is ‘sustainable,’ a word so often misused that it has practically lost all meaning to environmentalists.

“Can you have a ‘sustainable harvest’ of a population when the best available science says that they will suffer a 66 percent decline by the middle of the century?” Fish and Wildlife Service Director Daniel M. Ashe said in an interview.

Following this rationale, the United States reintroduced the proposal, which aimed to prohibit the commercial trade altogether. This is the second time the US has suggested this type of ban.

The proposal was opposed by Canada, Greenland, and Norway, all of which have polar bear populations. Among the opposition, Canada is the only country that still allows the sport hunting of polar bears. The opposition is largely financially motivated.

Fueled by demand from China and Russia, the number of polar bear hides offered at auction has risen from 60 in 2010 to 225 in 2012, according to the advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), while the average sales price rose from $2,186 to $5,211 during that period, according to the Washington Post. An unblemished pelt can fetch as much as $10,000 and claws and teeth can range from $20 to $200 each. This commoditization has made the polar bear an increased target for poachers.

There are between 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears living in the wild in Canada, the United States, Russia, Denmark and Norway, according to the most recent analysis, which was conducted in the early 1990s. Scientists predict these numbers will drop sharply within a few decades as summer sea ice shrinks. About 800 bears are killed each year in subsistence hunting, and roughly 400 to 500 of them are exported annually for sale, most of them from Canada.

A compromise offered by the European Union, which focused on regulation via export quotas and a tagging system, rather than an outright ban, was also rejected by the Convention.

Environmentalists claim that in addition to regulating hunting and trade of polar bears, international policymakers can help the bears by placing equal focus on curbing climate change and offshore drilling in the Arctic. What is certain is that without habitat and population protection, the polar bear will quickly join the ranks of so many important animals who have become extinct because of our irresponsibility.

Source: The New York Times

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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