Wildlife Groups Seek Halt to Polar Bear Trade

Mon Aug 31, 2009 10:23am EDT

* Reuters is not responsible for the content in this press release.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 31 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The International Fund for
Animal Welfare, Humane Society International, and Defenders of Wildlife have
urged the United States to lead the way to end international commercial trade
in polar bears, including hides, trophies, rugs and other polar bear parts.
The United States has an opportunity to submit a proposal to stop the trade at
next year's meeting of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The meeting is set for
13-25 March in Doha, Qatar.

Polar bears in the wild live entirely within five countries: Canada, Denmark
(Greenland), Norway, Russian Federation, and the United States. There are
presently between 20,000 and 25,000 polar bears and the number is decreasing.

Polar bears are completely dependent on sea ice, which they use for hunting
prey, reproduction and movement. Ongoing atmospheric pollution is causing
oceanic and atmospheric warming, which is leading to reductions in sea ice.
Some scientists have concluded that polar bears will not survive past the end
of this century due to the complete loss of summer sea ice.

In 2008, the United States listed the polar bear as a threatened species under
the Endangered Species Act. This ended the importation to the United States of
trophies of polar bears killed by American sport hunters. Although hunters
from other countries can still import trophies, the United States was by far
the largest importer and American trophy hunters had driven this large-scale
commercial killing.

In addition to hunting trophies, polar bear parts - skin, fur, claws, skulls
and even stuffed bears - enter international commercial trade.  More than 400
polar bear skins are traded annually; most come from Canada and most go to
Japan. 

The proposal would transfer the polar bear from CITES Appendix II, which
allows regulated international commercial trade, to Appendix I, which
prohibits all international commercial trade in the listed species. The
purpose of CITES is to prevent over-exploitation of species through
international trade.

The Appendix I designation would mean that countries agree to prohibit
international trade for primarily commercial purposes and thus ensure that
international trade will not contribute to the ongoing decrease in polar bear
numbers. Appendix I listing will not affect native subsistence hunting or use
of polar bears. 

The United States must submit the proposal to the CITES Secretariat in Geneva,
Switzerland, by no later than 14 October 2009. The United States Fish and
Wildlife Service is accepting comments from the public through September 11.

"We cannot sit on the sidelines and accept the extinction of these iconic and
magnificent creatures. The government should be doing everything it can to
eliminate all threats to polar bears.  By uplisting the species at the next
CITES conference, the U.S. could help prevent the deaths of hundreds of polar
bears killed needlessly for the commercial market," said Jeff Flocken, D.C.
Office Director, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

"The United States is leading the way in saving this magnificent species from
extinction by granting the polar bear protection under the Endangered Species
Act. The federal government can continue its leadership for these rare
creatures by urging global protection under CITES," said Teresa M. Telecky,
Ph.D., Director of Wildlife for Humane Society International

"Polar bears are facing so many threats right now - from global warming to
poaching, trophy hunting and commercial trade - that scientists say they could
vanish from the United States by the middle of the century. We can't solve all
of these threats right away, but we can eliminate the threat of commercial
trade. The U.S. can and should take the lead, by submitting a proposal to
CITES to uplist the polar bear," said Rodger Schlickeisen, President,
Defenders of Wildlife.

About IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare) 
As the world's leading animal welfare organization, IFAW works from its global
headquarters in the United States and 16 country offices to improve the
welfare of wild and domestic animals by reducing the commercial exploitation
of animals, protecting wildlife habitats, and assisting animals in distress.
With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW works both on the ground and in
the halls of government to safeguard wild and domestic animals and seeks to
motivate the public to prevent cruelty to animals and to promote animal
welfare and conservation policies that advance the well-being of both animals
and people. To learn how you can help, please visit www.ifaw.org

About Humane Society International
Humane Society International and its affiliate organizations together
constitute one of the world's largest animal protection organizations - backed
by 11 million people. HSI is creating a better future for animals and people
through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and
confronting cruelty worldwide - On the web at hsi.org

About Defenders of Wildlife
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and
plants in their natural communities.  With more than 1 million members and
activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative
solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come.  For
more information, visit www.defenders.org


SOURCE  International Fund for Animal Welfare

Chris Cutter of International Fund for Animal Welfare, +1-508-744-2066,
ccutter@ifaw.org; or Abby Berman, +1-646-695-8455, abby@rosengrouppr.com, for
International Fund for Animal Welfare
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