The polar bear should be added to CITES
- by: Simon Harvey
- recipient: CITES: The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
The polar bear is not just an icon. It is classified by the IUCN as a vulnerable species, with eight of the 19 polar bear sub-populations in decline. Because it has evolved to inhabit a very narrow niche in the natural world, the polar bear is unable to adapt to its rapidly-changing environment. Arctic ice, on which the bear depends, is receding, making it increasingly hard for young bears to make their first step (or swim) from the land where they are born to the ice from which they will find food.
Climate-change is not the polar bear's only enemy. Pollution, exploration for oil and gas and stress caused by tourism pose a threat, while hunting is a significant problem in Canada. Hunting polar bears is legal there. This hunting generates income for the local indigenous population, so the question of banning the hunting of polar bears has proved controversial in Canada.
The bears, of course, don't know anything about politics. Their world is being invaded and polluted; and, critically, it is melting. The long-term survival of the polar bear depends on action now.
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As we know, the polar bear's natural habitat is not just under threat: it is disappearing as a result of a mechanism that cannot be reversed. The polar bear is unable to adapt to the disappearance of the polar ice on which it depends, and it is suffering additional stresses as a result of hunting, pollution and tourism. It is our view that this iconic species should be appended to CITES while functioning breeding populations still exist, and before the dire inbreeding issues we have seen with some big cats start to manifest themselves. This will help ensure that the polar bear will not become a casualty of mankind's polluting and invasive habits.