A polar bear parts trade ban proposal was denied during an international conference on wildlife trade. Discussion about upgrading the protective status of polar bears at the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was one of the most hotly debated animal rights topics at the Bangkok meeting.
Reaching a consensus about polar bear parts trade on the international market could not be reached among the representatives of almost 200 countries. United States representatives authored the CITES proposal requesting enhanced protection for polar bears.
The animal parts trading proposals faced staunch opposition from Norway, Canada, and Greenland – all of which have large polar bear populations. Canada is reportedly home to two-thirds of the world’s polar bear population.
A European Union proposal on the trading of polar bear parts request offered a bit of a compromise. The CITES compromise proposal requested establishing a tagging policy and export quotas to control illegal animal trading.
The European Union polar bear parts compromise attempt did not gain enough support for passage either. United States Department of the Interior Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes said, “We are obviously disappointed that the CITES membership failed to give greater protection to polar bears by limiting permissible trade in polar beat pelts and other body parts.” Decreases in the bear population due to melting sea ice reportedly prompted concerns over species protection.
US Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe said, “A CITES Appendix I listing would have ensured that commercial trade would not compound the threats of habitat loss that are facing this species.”
Although polar bears are decreasing in number, prices for their hides and other parts continue to soar. Increased hunting has reportedly occurred due to the profits garnered from the bear hides. Polar bears are currently listed on the CITES Appendix II, meaning trade of their body parts and hides is limited.
If the United States’ animal trafficking proposal would have been accepted, and outright ban on polar bear parts would have gone into effect. The proposed ban garnered support from Russian. Canada is currently the only nation that permits the export of polar bear parts.
Canadian representatives at CITES maintained the fervor over polar bear parts was not based on science, but emotion. Approximately 600 arctic bears are killed in the country each year. Several Inuit delegates claimed the animal parts trafficking ban would negatively impact their livelihood.
The vote on the proposal to ban the trade of arctic bear body parts was 38 countries in favor, 42 against, and 46 nations abstained from the vote entirely. A statement from the World Wildlife Fund released after the CITES votes maintained that climate habitat loss due to climate change was the primary reason for population declines, and not polar bear parts trading.