Polar Bears: Hungry, homeless and hunted
The plight of polar bears has become synonymous with climate change and melting sea ice because it deprives the bears of a place to live and hunt. In contrast, threats resulting from international trade in polar bear skins and trophy hunting have received almost no attention. New research by People for Nature & Peace's Technical Advisor, Ole J. Liodden revealed that the growing international trade in skins poses an immediate and largely unrecognized threat to polar bear survival.
Between 1963 and 2016, hunters killed almost 53,500 polar bears - more than twice the number of today’s global population of around 25,000. To this day, each year 800 to 1,000 polar bears lose their lives at their hands. However, the impact of hunting on the future of polar bear populations extends far beyond the mere numbers. Both activities focus on the largest and strongest bears in the best physical condition. In doing so hunting shortens the odds that polar bears will be able to cope with receding sea ice and other environmental challenges. If we want polar bears to be around, we need to help them - and fast.
We are determined to ou can help us an urgent conservation priority as polar bears are caught between climate change and guns.
Although a warmer climate may largely determine the future distribution of polar bears, the vast majority of population reductions over the past 30 years are attributable to unsustainable hunting. At least for the next ten to 15 years, hunting will likely continue to play a major role in determining polar bear population trends.
Global demand for polar bear skins nearly quadrupled between 2012 and 2014, compared to the period from 2006 to 2008. Attracted by increasing polar bear skin prices, a growing number of hunters become involved in polar bear skin trade.
The highest number of hunts take place in Canada, but polar bears are also hunted in Greenland, the USA (Alaska) and Russia. In some areas in the Canadian Arctic more than 90% of polar bears targeted are large males. The number of polar bears killed during the 2011 and 2012 Canadian hunting seasons exceeded government hunting quotas by 11 percent, adding a growing number of illegal kills to the already high legal death toll.
The average price of polar bear skins at fur auctions in Canada has more than quadrupled between 2006 and 2014 (from CAD 1,311 to CAD 6,063). For many hunters this substantial rise in skin prices has transformed what were once traditional, subsistence hunts into money-driven, commercial hunts.
The observed rise in polar bear skin prices between 2006 to 2014 was the direct result of a growing demand from Chinese buyers (CITES database). Imports to China rose from 28 polar bear skin in 2006 to 300 skin imports in 2013. By 2011– 2015, 70.6% of all polar bears skins exported from Canada were imported to China.
High prices for quality polar bear skins entices more hunters to become involved in what are in essence “commercial” hunting activities. Native hunters are paid considerably more for good quality skins. Like trophy hunters they therefore target the biggest, strongest and healthiest bears.
The growing international trade in polar bear skins, particularly to China, presents a serious, immediate and largely unrecognized threat to the species.