Conservationists Want Ban On Products Made From Polar Bears
December 26, 2012

Conservationists Want Ban On Products Made From Polar Bears

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Some conservationists are calling for increased restrictions on the buying and selling of rugs and other goods made from polar bears–citing the animal´s threatened status.

Others disagree–saying climate change is the bears´ biggest threat and focusing on their trade de-emphasizes the true reason behind their endangerment.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which has long championed the polar bears´ cause, takes the position that climate change, not international trade, is their most significant threat.

"If we were tempted to support (a ban) on the basis of trade being a major threat, it is not," Colman O'Criodain, WWF's wildlife trade policy analyst, told BBC News.

"You could say that this is just a distraction factor and that it could have the effect of making people think something has been done to address the threat when the net effect will be almost negligible," he added.

Officials at the Humane Society International/UK disagree, citing a 375 percent increase in the number of polar bear skins offered at auction over the past five years as evidence that the animals are being hunted more than ever.

"The drivers for the increase in recent years in the trade in polar bear parts are the extremely worrying and rapidly increasing prices being paid on international markets for polar bear parts," Mark Jones, executive director of the HSI/UK, told the British news agency.

The debate is expected to heat up as the issue of a ban will be discussed at a UN wildlife conservation meeting in Thailand next March.

The bears have developed a recent association with climate change. Popular culture depicts them as one of the animals most affected by melting polar ice, a major component of their habitat. Fighting for polar bear survival has become intertwined with and a proxy for climate change battles.

"We have to focus on what is the major threat and not distract ourselves with a relatively minor one. We can't be arguing for the science when it suits us and then ignore it when it doesn't suit our case," O'Criodain said.

Polar bear hunting is a part of the Canadian and Inuit culture, with about 600 individuals being legally killed each year. Over the last decade, more than 30,000 products derived from polar bears have been bought and sold.

Where some see a battle to protect polar bears by banning the trade of certain products, others see a move to de-emphasize the activities responsible for climate change.

"The American government is using the threat of climate change to justify banning the international trade in polar bear parts while utterly failing to do anything to reduce their own activities," Inuit spokesman James Eetoolook of the Nunavut Tunngavik told BBC News.

In denouncing a potential ban, Eetoolook´s group cited their own research study, released earlier this year and conducted in the western side of Hudson Bay, which found the local polar bear population numbered around 1,000 animals and was possibly expanding.

“This is not about climate change. This is about how polar bears were used to draw attention to climate change. It was dangerous and wrong for scientists to use incomplete data to make predictions,” Eetoolook said back in April when the study was released.