CITES and polar bears

 A changing climate does not change the need for science

On 8 November FACE participated in the European Commission Stakeholders’ Hearing in Brussels on the upcoming 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP16) to CITES, which will be held from 3-14 March 2013 in Bangkok, Thailand.

The Commission had invited stakeholders (representing a wide range from trade and wildlife users groups to ideological anti-use groups) to identify their main issues of interest. At the meeting, FACE particularly stressed that any positions taken by Parties, including the EU-27, must be science-based and respect the agreed biological and trade criteria of CITES. The aim of this Convention is to regulate international trade of species in order to ensure that this does not threaten their survival – it is not a tool to unjustifiably ban trade.

In view of this FACE expressed great concerns over the US proposal to uplist the Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) from the Convention’s Appendix II to Appendix I, thereby giving it stricter protection in view of trade.A similar proposal from the US at the last CoP15 in Doha, Qatar in March 2010 was heavily defeated in a vote by Parties, thus confirming that international trade of some 300 bears annually, out of a population of 25,000, is not a threat to the Polar bear. Between then and now nothing has changed in this regard. In October 2012 TRAFFIC North America & WWF-Canada recognised in their report ‘Icon on Ice’ that “Range States have significantly improved the management and conservation of polar bears th[r]ough international and bilateral agreements, increased research and monitoring activities and the establishment of harvest limits and/or quotas” and that “legal international trade in polar bear parts and derivatives does not currently appear to be a significant threat to the species”.

The fact is that the US has never claimed the Polar bear to be threatened, but based its proposal on a purely speculative assumption that global warming could be projected as leading to a population decline of sufficient level to threaten the species with extinction, and if this was so, international trade may be projected as contributing further to this problem. Such a speculative approach finds no support in CITES! It moreover carries great risks as it would harm the livelihoods of local indigenous peoples and thereby may impact adversely on the current adaptive conservation strategy for the Polar bear, in which a sustainable and well-managed hunt plays an important part.

It will therefore be important for FACE in close collaboration with its partner organisations CIC (International Council for Game & Wildlife Conservation) and SCI (Safari Club International) to defend at CoP16 the use of science in polar bear conservation and reject speculation for inclusion of the species in Appendix I.

Other issues raised at the Commission’s Stakeholders’ Hearing in Brussels were the conservation of the African elephant (Loxodonta africana) and the serious situation for the White rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum simum) as a result of illegal killing. The important issue of livelihoods and community-based natural resource management programmes was also discussed as a means to achieve more successful conservation results. These issues require careful scientific considerations ahead of CoP16.

 The full list of proposals by Parties can be found here: