A midst trepidation’s of distraction from the ever-growing problem of global warming that is posing a major threat to the whole world, an important meeting of governments tracking threats to endangered species chose to reject a international ban on polar bear trade on Thursday. The result of this rejection was a division among conservationists with some believing that the threat of extinction of largest carnivorous animals in the world is not only because of loss of habitat but also because of international trade of these animals.
There is enough reason for this panic as polar bears are expected to be in the frontline of those animals that will be disadvantaged because of polar ice caps that are fast melting. However, the spotlight of the raging debate among the 178 CITES member nations held in Bangkok was on the extra danger that was posed to these animals because of international trade.
Dan Ashe, the head of the US delegation, which was instrumental in proposing the ban, saw the rejection as contributing to the grim future that these animals were facing for their survival. He projected the polar bear population to almost fall by two-thirds of their current numbers by the year 2050. Ashe supported his statements with the fact that the current numbers of polar bears were not sustainable if the international trade of these animals continued to take place at the current rate.
The rejection of the ban won by 42 votes to 38; however, there were 46 abstentions from participating member nations in the poll that took place in Bangkok. The ban proposal, to be successful, requires a two-third majority in its favor and is likely to come up once again at the plenary session of the CITES member nations that is scheduled to be held later next week. The previous CITES meeting in 2010 also saw a similar unsuccessful bid. Polar bears are in great demand, notably in Russia, not only for their skin but for their other parts such as claws, teeth, and skull.
Currently listed in the Annexure II of CITES, international trade of polar bears are subject to strict regulations.
It is estimated that close to fifty percent of the 800 polar bears that are killed per year end up as part of the international trade of these animals. Experts from the United States estimate that a majority of these are Canadian wild bears. The total number of polar bears in the world is between 20000 and 25000 in numbers and they live in countries such as Canada, Norway, United States, Russia and Denmark (Greenland).
It was surprising that even the most important conservation organizations such as WWF and Traffic refused to support the ban on international trade of polar bears saying that the global warming and the ensuing climate change was a more serious threat to these animals. WWF supported its action by citing that the decline in numbers of polar bears was more due to loss of habitat than international trade.
Canada, which plays host to the largest polar bear population in the world and is involved in the export of various polar bears’ parts to many other countries, opposes the ban. Stressing the importance of preserving the Inuit indigenous minority tribe’s traditions (the members of the tribe mainly live in the northern part of the country), Canada reinforced the strong emotional bonding between the tribe and the animal.
Asserting that a polar bear is an iconic symbol of the Arctic region, Basile Van Havre, a Canadian delegate, added that though Canada is interested in protecting the animal species, it was not emotion that was the criterion in conserving or managing their numbers. Tagak Curley, an Inuit parliamentarian, reiterated the fact that his tribesmen had a unique relationship with the animal and proper management in the last 40 years has caused their population to more than double during the period.
He said that the identity of the Inuit people would be weakened considerably without the polar and the special connection that his people had with the animal. There were a few campaign groups that did support the international ban along with Russia. The high cost of pelts ($50,000) in Russia is seen as one of the factors that contribute to poaching of polar bears in their own country.