February 22, 2006

Greenland Starts Quota to Save Polar Bears

COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- Greenland's government on Wednesday introduced the ice-capped island's first hunting quota for polar bears, which scientists believe are threatened by the effects of global warming.

The figure for 2006 was set at 150 animals, Greenland's fishing and hunting directory said. Only Greenlanders with valid hunting permits can obtain permission to shoot a bear.

Previously, local Inuit hunters have killed about 250 bears annually in the semiautonomous Danish territory. The animals are shot for their skin and meat.

The quota was introduced to protect the species' survival in Greenland as their natural habitat comes under threat from climate change in the Arctic. Scientists say global warming is melting the ice cap on which the bears hunt, making it difficult for them to find food.

There are an estimated 7,500 polar bears in Greenland - the world's largest island - mainly in the northern and eastern part.

The quota was divided mostly among hamlets in that region, including Upernavik, Qaanaaq and Ittoqqortoormiit.

Southern towns including Nanortalik, Qaqortoq and Narsaq were granted permission to kill up to two polar bears. In recent years, bears have showed up near those locations after being stranded on ice floes drifting south.

The quota will be revised annually, officials said. There were no immediate plans to grant permissions to foreign hunters.