The countries represented at the 11th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) achieved consensus on a Proposal submitted by Norway to put Polar bears on Appendix II of the Convention.

That is good news for the Polar Bears and IFAW welcomes it.

However, Appendix II of CMS does not mean that sufficient conservation action will ultimately protect the wellbeing of polar bears.

But it means that one more international convention with more than 120 countries is recognizing the threats to Polar bears which include the dramatic shrinking of their ice habitat due to global warming as well other threats (increasing of oil development at the Arctic shelf and potential oil spills, opening of intense ship navigation in Arctic, water pollution which cause accumulation of different chemicals in Polar Bears as a predator on the top of the food chain and illegal and trophy hunting).

There are only 20,000 – 25,000 polar bears left in the world. They are slow breeders and depend on the ‘one year ice’ over the Arctic shelf to hunt for their main pray species: ring and bearded seals.

Pregnant females construct dens, where they give birth to 2 or 3 cubs once in three years. Records show that the amounts of dens, in traditional sites, are declining. In the past, 300 dens could be seen at Wrangel Island (the Biosphere Reserve at Chukchi Sea). 

Nowadays there only 60. More and more females have had to move to the continental shore to build their dens. Not only that, bears have to swim longer distances to reach the ice, sometimes hundreds of kilometers. As a result we’ve seen record numbers of polar bear cub drowning.

Generally it is true, that global warming is the major threat to polar bear survival. One projection calculates that by 2050 the number of polar bears will drop by two thirds and that by the year 2100, polar bears will be found only in the Canadian arctic.

It is therefore vitally important to eliminate or minimize all threats to polar bears. One such threat is the harvest of polar bears for the international commercial trade, which is happening in Canada under the umbrella of traditional subsistence hunting.

A way to stop this might come from an uplisting of polar bears into Appendix I of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna). Such a Proposal was tabled by the United States at CoP16 of CITES held in 2013 in Bangkok. The proposal was strongly supported by the Russian Federation but regretfully it did not pass through due to opposition from Canada and lack of support from the EU.

There are numerous international agreements with regards to polar bears. From five range states (Canada, Denmark (on behalf of Greenland), Norway, US and Russia), the hunt is completely forbidden in Russia (since 1956), in Norway (since 1973) in the rest of the range states the limited subsistence hunt is allowed. The US and Greenland do not allow the Polar bears pelts and parts to be traded internationally, while Canada does allow export of skins.

With the increase of demand for polar bear skins as a status luxury product in China and Russia, the prices for polar bears rugs or stuffed bears went up to 100,000 USD in the internal markets in China and up to 70.000 USD in Russia. As a result, there was record number of polar bears killed in Canada. In Russia, about 300-400 bears are poached annually. If polar bears are placed in Appendix I of CITES, we could see the protection of hundreds of bears annually, which is no small deal for a species that has, at the most, 25,000 individuals.

IFAW welcomes the Proposal of Norway (Appendix II of CMS) as there are no small steps in saving the polar bears. This new listing at CMS will help support the protection of polar bears and it’s another step forward in the cooperation among countries to save this magnificent animal.

–MV

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Article source: IFAW

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