U.S. Proposal to Ban Cross-Border Polar Bear Trades Denied : The World We Share

Since probably the dawn of time, humans have hunted animals for “useful” parts. Their meat, eaten. Their skins, used for blankets, clothing and even shelter. Their bones, at one time, were used to make useful items like utensils. But with environmental changes, the growing population, and the wastefulness of the general population, it seems that humans are driving Mother Nature into extinction.

Thousands of animals live on the brink of extinction, and some have already disappeared forever. As a result, bans, protections and regulations have been made to protect certain animal species. But how far is too far? At what point do we decide that hunting an animal is no longer acceptable?

As far as the polar bear is concerned, the United States says we are already there. They recently submitted a proposal to ban cross-border trade in polar bears and their parts. According to recent estimated, the worldwide population of polar bears is estimated to be somewhere around 20,000 to 28,000; about two-thirds of that population can be found in Canada. In their proposal, the United States stated that climate changes have drastically shrunken the habitats of polar bears. They believe that pre-emptive measures should be made to save these large, majestic creatures.

But there is an entire community of people, the Inuit, that make their living by hunting polar bears and selling or trading their wares. They say a ban would only further threaten their ability to survive? Who’s right? There may never be a clear-cut answer, but one thing still stands: their age-old practice of hunting and selling polar bear wares will continue, at least for now.

The proposal, which was presented at an international meeting of conservationists on Thursday, fell severely short of the two-thirds vote needed to pass. Only 38 voted in favor of the ban, but 42 voted against. Another 46 abstentions were made.

For that, the Intuit couldn’t be more grateful.

“The world bans the seal trade, not based on science, but based on their bleeding hearts, right? Because ‘it’s so cruel.’ But we’ve lived off the seals for centuries, and the population is quite healthy. So that was taken away from us. Now the ivory trade, we have the walrus tusks and the narwhal tusks, and that trade was important to us as well. That was taken away from us. Now they’re saying the polar bear should be taken away from us as well,” Terry Aulda, head of an Inuit rights group told CBC News after the vote. “What it means to the Inuit people is that it is a confirmation that the Inuit are managing the polar bear in a very responsible manner and that the world agrees with us, and it’s a proud moment for the Inuit community.”

Simon Idlout of Resolute Bay, Nunavut, a 64-year-old Inuit elder says he’s also happy about the decision. He invited anyone who thinks they’re an expert on polar bears to come to the north and live among them, as he does, and study the bears in their habitats. He says the issue isn’t climate change or hunting; it’s the intrusion of non-native humans that is responsible for the presence of polar bears in local communities.

“Ever since I was young, I have hunted and live with polar bears,” Idlout told CBC News. “I have seen polar bears catch seals out in the open water on several occasions…Helicopters are to blame for them coming to communities. They are losing their hearings and going deaf.”

While disappointed by the loss, the United States says they aren’t giving up on their proposal, not yet anyway. They say they will continue to work at passing this proposal (which was shut down three years ago at the last Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species meeting as well).

“We will continue to work with our partners to reduce the pressure that trade in polar bear parts puts on this iconic arctic species, even as we take on the longer-term threat that climate change poses to polar bears,” Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J. Hayes said in a prepared statement.

“Each year, an average of 3,200 items made from polar bears – including skins, claws and teeth – a reported to be exported or re-exported from a range of countries. Polar bear hides sell for an average of $2,000 to $5,000, while maximum hide prices have topped $12,000,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who backed the proposal, said in their prepared statement. “Limiting commercial trade in this species would have addressed a source of non-climate stress to polar bear populations and contributed to long-term recovery.”