Polar Bears on the Precipice: Commercial International Trade of Polar Bears is Affecting Their Chances of Survival

February 26, 2013

The polar bear's best chance of survival in the wild through the end of the century -- a timeframe in which it is possible to stabilize anthropogenic climate change -- is in Canadian territory. In fact, 15,000 of the world's estimated polar bear population of 20,000 to 25,000 are managed wholly or jointly by Canada. Yet Canada is the only country in the world where polar bears are hunted for international commercial trade.

Unfortunately, many of Canada's polar bear populations are in decline. And many of the hunting quotas in Canada are unsustainable -- and on the rise. For example, despite opposition from both the International Union for Concerned Scientists and the Canadian federal government, the Canadian Territory of Nunavut tripled its hunting quota for the Western Hudson Bay polar bear population in October 2011.

In 2012, Nunavut increased the hunting quotas again despite renewed opposition. The rise in hunting quotas is motivated in part by soaring international demand for hides. The number of skins offered at auctions in Canada tripled between 2007 and 2012 and auction prices doubled in the same time.

The international body that oversees commercial trade of endangered species, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), will be meeting in the spring of 2013 to decide if the world will protect our last remaining polar bears from the second biggest threat to their survival: trade. The international community can no longer wait to act. We must support this proposal to ensure that polar bear harvest is no longer influenced by rising international demand.