Polar bears, WWF and CITES trade bans

Posted on 14 March 2013
12 March 2013 -- CITES listings control only international trade in wildlife and wildlife products. At WWF we often support complete international trade bans, for example when it comes to tigers and rhinos. But right now polar bears are a different case.

Polar bears don’t meet the strict scientific criteria set by CITES for an Appendix I listing, which bans all international commercial trade – not in terms of either population size, rate of decline or area of distribution

Some hunting and trading of polar bears does happen, mainly by indigenous people in the Arctic region for whom the bears are a vital resource. A ban on international trade for polar bears under CITES would not necessarily reduce the number of bears killed by hunters in the Arctic. CITES does not regulate domestic hunting quotas; those are determined by national governments. CITES only regulates international exports of polar bear products, which are not the primary motivation for hunting these animals. Most hunting is for subsistence by Inuit for their domestic use.

Canada is the only country that currently allows international exports of polar bears and their products. Canada sets hunting quotas and some polar bear pelts and other parts are subsequently exported. However, simply 'uplisting' the polar bear on CITES, from its current 'Appendix II' restricted trade status to an 'Appendix I’ ban, would have a negligible effect on protecting the species. It wouldn’t affect Canada’s domestic rules

If, at some stage in the future, polar bear populations become so diminished by climate change and habitat loss, and/or if international trade presents a greater threat, we would want to revisit the CITES listing issue. But we're not at that point. 

Right now what’s best for polar bears is for us to reduce climate change. At WWF we are also working closely with indigenous people in polar bear range states, as they're the people who live and work most closely with the bears, and the ones who can help us ensure the long-term survival of this iconic species. 

WWF is implementing a range of conservation actions for polar bears. These include addressing climate change, protecting polar bear habitat and addressing other threats. We’re doing this by reducing industrial impacts on their habitat, creating safer communities by reducing human-polar bear conflict and reducing the impact of tourism on polar bears. Additionally, we are addressing overharvesting where polar bears are hunted, learning about polar bear biology and population trends, and anticipating the future for polar bears in the light of sea ice decreases and securing areas where polar bears and people can continue to co-exist.

We will continue to monitor trade in polar bears closely including with our partner TRAFFIC, which recently filed this extensive report on polar bear trade.

You can

Read about polar bears
Find out why tackling climate change is so vital for all our work

The five countries where polar bears live (Russia, US, Canada, Norway, Denmark [Greenland]) signed an agreement in 1973 to protect polar bear habitat. In a 2009 meeting, those countries agreed that “...their common obligations to protect the ecosystem of which polar bears are a part can only be met if global temperatures do not rise beyond levels where the sea ice retreats from extensive parts of the Arctic.”
© WWF / Mireille de la Lez/www.vanishingworld.se Enlarge
Sixteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties 3 - 14 March 2013 in Bangkok, Thailand
© CITES Enlarge

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