BANGKOK, THAILAND--(Marketwire - Mar 7, 2013) - A proposal to grant more protections to the already endangered polar bear was voted down today by delegates at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Supported by the United States and Russia, the proposal sought to uplist the species to Appendix I, which would have effectively banned international commercial trade of polar bear parts and products. Canada, the European Union, Norway and several other nations vocally opposed the proposal.
"The world once again had a chance to take action to safeguard polar bear populations and failed. Polar bears were handed the same appalling fate at the last CITES meeting and the decision is even more disheartening this time around," said Jeff Flocken, North American Regional Director, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). "Each passing year that this iconic species is not protected to the fullest, is another year closer to losing the polar bear forever."
Only 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears remain in the wild, living in Canada, Greenland, Norway, Russia and the United States. Leading polar bear scientists believe that two-thirds of the world''s polar bear populations will be lost by the year 2050.
"We are obviously extremely disappointed with today''s outcome, and an opportunity to protect Canada''s polar bears has been squandered" said Sheryl Fink, spokesperson for IFAW Canada. "Today''s decision by no means implies that polar bears are out of danger, and we call on Canada to take every possible measure available to protect this iconic species."
"Populations are currently struggling with the critical condition of the environment leading to a decreasing population, low breeding rates, low survival in cubs, high mortality in general - maintaining this additional, unnecessary threat may push polar bears over the precipice," said Nikita Ovsyanikov, a Russian scientist and member of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group.
More than 400 polar bears are needlessly exploited, hunted and killed annually to supply the demand for their fur and parts. Additionally, illegally killed bears are disguised as legal trade and sold on markets. Behind climate change, hunting is the second largest threat to polar bears. Compounded with habitat degradation, melting sea ice, poaching, and pollution from oil and gas operations, these threats put already dwindling populations at severe risk.
"This is extremely disappointing for Russians and Russian polar bears. The commercial trade in polar bears from Canada is the cover for the illegal killing and trafficking of Russian polar bears," said Masha Vorontsova, Russian Regional Director, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
Working closely with Russia, the United States was a leader in pushing for greater protection for polar bears.
"The polar bear is facing a grim future, and today brought more bad news. The continued harvest of polar bears to supply the commercial international trade is not sustainable. Members of CITES have an obligation to protect species from this threat," said Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and head of the U.S. delegation to CoP16. "Today, we failed to do that for the polar bear."
IFAW has a delegation in Bangkok attending the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Jeff Flocken, North American Regional Director for IFAW, is available for media interviews from Bangkok. Sheryl Fink, Spokesperson for IFAW Canada, is available for media interviews from Guelph.
About IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare)
Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.