It’s Beyond Time to End Polar Bear Trophy Hunting

Polar bear and two cubs

The polar bear is one of the most iconic animal species in the world. These mammoth mammals have long caught the imagination of people around the globe. But as climate change threatens their Arctic habitat, their numbers are dropping. There are only 25,000 polar bears left in the world. Only one country still allows trophy hunting of polar bears: Canada. It’s time to eliminate these hunts to help save this precious species.

Traditional Inuit hunters relied on the bears they killed for their subsistence. They used all parts of the animal, with the exception of the liver, and they only killed what they needed on an annual basis. In traditional Inuit hunting methods, they would track the bears on foot and kill them with handmade weapons, such as spears. Today, they use snowmobiles and rifles, which has greatly increased the number of polar bears killed by Indigenous communities.

Traditional Inuit Hunting
Polar bear trophy hunting with airplanes and rifles has surpassed traditional Inuit hunting methods. Image: J. Wesley Van der Voort, 1883.

Since sport hunting began in the 1940s in countries across the Arctic, more than 50,000 polar bears have been killed. Visiting trophy hunters from the south would pursue their prey from light airplanes and motorized boats, methods that were outlawed in the 1970s. Back then, trophy hunting was completely banned by The United States, Russia, Denmark, and Norway, leaving Canada as the only place to go if you want to kill a polar bear.

Every year, 600 tags or permits for polar bear hunting are made available to Inuit communities in Canada. They can choose to divert some of that quota by selling it to trophy hunters, if they so desire. It can be a lucrative side business for a population living in an area with few employment opportunities. However, this method of making money has been drying up since 2008, when The United States banned the importation of polar bear trophies. Now, local hunters depend on exporting polar bear skins to overseas markets, notably China, where 1,175 skins were sold between 2011 and 2015.

A starving polar bear
Due to climate change and global warming, a loss of ice prevented this polar bear from traveling from the Svalbard islands to the dense drift ice and pack ice of the high arctic where he would have found plenty of prey. Photo: Andreas Weith.

In addition to hunting, polar bears face other threats: namely, climate change is destroying their natural habitat. The shrinking of the Arctic ice as a result of global warming has led females to establish their maternity dens on land rather than on the ice, making cubs more vulnerable. And the loss of ice floes as platforms from which to hunt seals has made it harder for the bears to find adequate food. These factors are threatening polar bears to the point of extinction.

While an argument can be made for allowing Indigenous hunters to continue to hunt for meat, the international trade in polar bear skins is cruel and destructive to the few remaining polar bear populations who are already gravely threatened. It’s time for Canada to step up and join other nations in outlawing trophy hunting and the export of polar bear skins.

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