The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International Applaud Conservation Outcomes at CITES, Express Concern about Polar Bear Survival

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CITES closes with positive conservation outcomes, except for polar bears.

A delegation from The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International championed more than 40 proposals to protect wildlife from the threats posed by international commercial trade during the 16th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Bangkok. The meeting closed with many positive conservation outcomes, except for the polar bear, whose status remains unchanged despite evidence the species is imperiled.

Member countries to the Convention agreed to new or increased protections for dozens of species, including the West African manatee, nine species of green geckos from New Zealand, the Mangshan pit viper of China, more than 40 species of freshwater turtles and tortoises, the oceanic whitetip shark, the scalloped hammerhead shark, the great hammerhead shark, the smooth hammerhead shark, the porbeagle shark, the freshwater sawfish, and two species of manta rays. The parties also agreed to important measures to protect rhinos, elephants, cheetahs and a host of other species.

“CITES demonstrated that on its 40th anniversary, the treaty remains relevant and vital to ensuring that species are not detrimentally affected by international commercial trade,” said Teresa Telecky, wildlife director for HSI. “However, the only species that was denied new or increased CITES protection at this meeting was the polar bear. CITES parties missed an opportunity when they failed to pass a proposal to give the polar bear the top-level protection these animals so desperately need. Scientists warn that two-thirds of the world’s polar bears will be lost by mid-century due to loss of sea ice habitat caused by climate change."

Canada is the only one of five range States (others are United States, Russian Federation, Norway and Greenland) that allows polar bears to be killed and their skins traded internationally for commercial purposes. Rising demand has resulted in more bears being killed in Canada to supply this trade, further depleting polar bear populations that are already struggling to survive in the face of loss of habitat.

The United States, with the support of the Russian Federation, proposed to stop this international commercial trade, a move opposed by Canada and Greenland. The proposal was defeated mainly because the European Union, which votes as a block of 27 member nations plus Croatia, did not support it. As the status of the species is certain to continue to deteriorate, it is highly likely that the proposal will return to a future CITES meeting.

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Rebecca Basu
The Humane Society of the United States
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