At the end of last year European Voice reported on the argument in Canada over a US proposal to list polar bears in the top category of endangered species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (“You Canuck be serious!”, 22-28 November). Canada is opposed to such a listing, saying that polar-bear hunting is essential to the way of life of its native Inuit populations.
Yesterday (27 February), appropriately, was International Polar Bear Day, since the EU must now finalise its position on whether it will protect these majestic creatures from the international trade in their parts, in advance of the UN's CITES meeting in Bangkok next week.
It is estimated that only 20–25,000 polar bears now remain in the world and 15,000 of those live in Canada, where they are being increasingly hunted for their skins and other parts as well as simply for sport. While climate change and loss of habitat are indeed the greatest risk to polar bears, should we simply stand back and allow the last remaining few to be cruelly hunted to extinction for the sake of a few furs?
If agreed, the proposal submitted to CITES by the US and supported by Russia would include polar bears in Appendix I of CITES and would effectively ban commercial exports of polar bears, while not affecting exports for scientific or non-commercial purposes. It would also help stem poaching of Russian bears, the growing illegal trade of polar-bear skins, and the sale of used Canadian CITES permits.
The EU, with its 27 votes at the CITES conference, has the power to help protect this key species. Moreover, we believe it has the moral responsibility to do so: EU member states are, besides Japan, the major importer of Canadian polar bear products, according to the CITES statistics.
The European Parliament has already passed a very strong resolution in favour of increased polar bear protection and European citizens want this trade to end. The majority of EU member states are in favour, and we strongly urge the remaining countries to reconsider their position and support the proposed ban and help secure a future for polar bears.