Helping Polar Bears in the Gulf of Arabia

Yes, you read that right.  NRDC is working to save polar bears in the Gulf of Arabia – Doha, Qatar, to be exact.  No, Qatar is not a polar bear range state – the world’s largest bear’s preferred habitat is the annual sea ice over the continental shelf and inter-island archipelagoes of the Arctic basin in the territory of five countries:  the United States, Canada, Russia, Norway, and Denmark (via Greenland).  But Doha is hosting the 15th Conference of the Parties of the Conventional on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (“CITES” or “the Convention”).  CITES is the forum created by the international community to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.  And at this meeting, parties to the Convention will be voting on a US proposal to ban international trade in polar bear parts and put dual controls in place for the export of polar bear trophies. 

Approval of the US proposal is critical to ensure that the bears’ long-term survival is not further jeopardized by an international market for polar bear parts that creates an incentive for unsustainable overharvest.  That is why NRDC is attending the 15th Conference of the Parties, to help give polar bears a fighting chance.  Polar bears desperately need the help; in 2007, the U.S. Geological Survey conservatively estimated that the total population of polar bears – today numbering from 20,000 to 25,000 – will decline by over 70 percent in the next 45 years as global warming literally melts their habitat.  Science-based estimates like these led the US to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2008.  Nonetheless, Canada still allows the killing of 300 polar bears a year for international trade and trophy hunting, despite evidence that over half of the polar bear populations in Canada may suffer from overharvest.  So I am here on the ground in Doha, on behalf of NRDC and its 1.2 million members and activists, to help convince the CITES parties to do the right thing – support greater protections for polar bears.

It is going to be a tough fight.  Canada is firmly opposed to providing further protections under CITES, insisting, facts not withstanding, that it can adequately manage its populations.  But over the course of the conference, NRDC will do all it can to obtain better protections for polar bears.  I will report on that work as developments occur.  Stay tuned…