Wildlife Groups Commend the United States for Seeking to Halt Polar Bear Trade

Fri Oct 16, 2009 3:14pm EDT

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

WASHINGTON, Oct. 16 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The International Fund for
Animal Welfare (IFAW), Humane Society International and Defenders of Wildlife
today commended the United States for submitting a proposal to next year's
meeting of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to stop the international trade in
polar bears. The meeting is set for March 13-25 in Doha, Qatar.


"On May 8, 2009, Sec. Salazar said that he and President Obama were fully
committed to protecting polar bears, and that we must do everything we can to
eliminate all threats to the species," said Jeff Flocken, IFAW Washington,
D.C. Office Director. "With this laudable action, they are making good on that
commitment. By uplisting the species at the next CITES conference, the U.S.
will help prevent the deaths of hundreds of polar bears killed needlessly for
the commercial market." 


There are presently between 20,000 and 25,000 polar bears, and the number is
decreasing.


"By submitting this proposal, the United States is, once again, leading the
way to save this magnificent species from extinction. International trade in
polar bear parts and products is exacerbating the devastating impact that
climate change is already having on the polar bear. We should not be making
rugs out of polar bears at a time when they are threatened with extinction,"
said Teresa M. Telecky, Ph.D., Director of Wildlife, Humane Society
International.


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, 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 addition to hunting trophies, polar bear parts -- skin, fur, claws, skulls
and even stuffed bears -- enter international commercial trade. More than 500
polar bear skins are traded annually; most come from Canada and most go to
Japan. 


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.


"While we cannot stop the impacts of global warming on polar bears
immediately, one thing we can do is quickly address other threats which are
heightening the bear's problems, such as the commercial trade. By increasing
protections for polar bears under CITES, we can start to give the polar bear
some more protections while we take the necessary steps to address global
warming," said Rodger Schlickeisen, President, Defenders of Wildlife.


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. 


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 ifaw.org.


Humane Society International and its partner organizations together constitute
one of the world's largest animal protection organizations -- backed by 11
million people. For nearly 20 years, HSI has been fighting for the protection
of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating
animals and confronting cruelty worldwide -- On the web at hsi.org. Follow HSI
on Twitter.


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 defenders.org.






SOURCE  International Fund for Animal Welfare

Chris Cutter of IFAW, +1-508-744-2066, ccutter@ifaw.org; or Abby Berman,
+1-646-695-7043, abby@rosengrouppr.com, for IFAW
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