March 20, 2013
Debating The Polar Bear
Recently, redOrbit reported on the decision not to further protect polar bears. At this year’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok, Thailand, an American delegation proposed moving the polar bear from an Appendix II protection status to an Appendix 1 status.
According to CNN, an Appendix II protection status is applied to species that are not currently threatened with extinction but may face it without proper and stricter restrictions on the trade of their body parts. An Appendix I protection status is applied to species immediately threatened with extinction, thus it effectively bans trade of their body parts. Obviously a move to Appendix I would better help protect the polar bears; however, the CITES rules require a certain rate of decline for an animal to qualify for Appendix I protection status, and though the polar bear populations are declining, they have not yet reached the CITES required rate of decline.
Two main arguments exist in the argument. Those who opposed the move said that moving polar bears to an Appendix I status would directly impact the indigenous people who hunt polar bears for sustenance as well as to sell the pelts. Terry Audla, the spokesperson for the indigenous peoples of Canada—the main group who would feel the effects of a move—said, “A ban would affect our ability to buy the necessities of life, to clothe our children…We have to protect our means of putting food on the table and selling polar bear hides enables us to support ourselves.”
redOrbit explained that the native hunters kill an estimated 600-800 polar bears annually, and about 300 pelts are sold for rugs at an average of $4,800 (USD) each. Obviously, for a group of people who currently have few other commercial and economic prospects, moving the protection status of polar bears to Appendix I would cripple what they currently do for a living.
Those who supported the ban stated the shrinking Arctic ice habitat puts polar bear populations in a complicated place because the National Resources Defense Council says that two-thirds of the world’s polar bear populations could face local extinctions within 45 years. The combination of yearly hunting and environmental impacts put greater pressure on the polar bear.
Furthermore, supporters say that hunting has increased with the worldwide interest in polar bear pelts. CNN said that “the U.S. argued that parts from polar bears are traded among 70 countries and that trade encourages kills that, coupled with the habitat loss, put stress on populations that will cause them to shrink.
On the one hand, I am not opposed to hunting for subsistence reasons. People who hunt and eat what they kill and use the hides appropriately need to have access to what they can hunt around them. However, hunting just to sell the hides is not acceptable. Obviously, the polar bear needs some protection as it is on the Appendix II list, but is it at the level where it needs near immunity? On the contrary, should we wait until it is at that level before acting?
I believe in animal protection. I also believe in the importance of hunting for the right reasons. Perhaps the polar bear is not quite at the need for complete protection from extinction, but let’s not wait until it is too late. The polar bear is an icon of wild beauty. A balance between the need of the people and the need of the animal is necessary.
Image Credit: Photos.com