Polar bear trade ban fails

2013-03-07 10:46
A polar bear died after contracting a virus that originated in zebras. (Charles Rex Arbogast, AP)

A polar bear died after contracting a virus that originated in zebras. (Charles Rex Arbogast, AP)

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Bangkok - A proposed ban on international trade in polar bears was shot down on Thursday at the world's main forum on wildlife commerce.

The US-Russian sponsored proposal failed to win the two-thirds majority needed to essentially stop cross-border trade in the bears, which are classified as a vulnerable species.

The proposal was opposed by Canada, the EU and Norway at a meeting of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species.

An estimated 20 000 polar bears are left in the wild, but their numbers are threatened, primarily from habitat loss caused by melting sea ice.

"The polar bear is facing a grim future, and today brought more bad news," said Dan Ashe, director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The attempt to expand trade protections to polar bears was one of the more contentious items at this year's meeting on the convention.

Commercial trade

"It's not that in Europe, no one cares about polar bears," Hans Stielstra, deputy head of the EU delegation at the Bangkok meeting, said, arguing that there were more possibilities to protect the bears with trade restrictions now in place and without a ban.

At the moment, a country trading in polar bear parts must prove it can do so at a sustainable level.

An estimated 750 polar bears are killed each year in Canada for their hides, of which 400 are traded internationally.

No other country that is home to polar bears engages in the commercial trade in the animals.

Several EU members supported the US-Russian proposal, but the bloc failed to reach a consensus on the issue, officials said.

The proposal came under fire for not addressing a more imminent threat to the bear - global warming.

Studies of melting Arctic ice have concluded that two-thirds of the polar bear population would disappear in 40 years.

The decline would happen with or without the passage of the trade ban, said Colman O'Criodain, a wildlife trade policy analyst at the conservation group World Wide Fund for Nature.

"Let's address the real threat and not a subsidiary one," he said, calling on the US government to do more to slow global warming.

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