Polar bears are severely threatened by climate change and habitat loss. However, another important threat is largely less known, and underestimated: the on-going legal trade in their skins. Norway, a range State of the polar bear, along with Canada, are the biggest traders of polar bear furs, most of which end up in China where there is a high demand for them. However, a poll on 8th November 2021 showed that Norwegians are little aware of this devastating trade, and that a majority of the population of Norway wants their government to immediately stop trading in polar bear furs.
Between 800-1,000 polar bears of a wild population of just over 20,000 are shot annually across the five range States, which includes Canada, United States of America, Russia, Greenland and Norway, with some 600 killed in Canada alone. The majority of these polar bears are shot for the commercial fur trade, at a level that is not sustainable. Most of these furs are then imported by Norway with many then being re-exported to China. The highest price is paid for the largest and best quality fur, which entices commercial hunters to shoot the biggest bears in peak condition. This selective hunting constitutes an added threat to the survival of polar bears, already decimated by climate change.
On 8th November Infact, a Norwegian-based polling company, conducted a nation-wide survey on behalf of Ole J. Liodden, a Norwegian wildlife conservationist and photographer, to assess the opinions of Norwegians on their country’s role in the commercial trade in polar bear furs. The survey’s findings were:
- 3% of Norwegians are unaware that Norway is a major importer of polar bear furs.
- Just 13.7% of Norwegians support a continued trade in polar bear furs.
- 78% of Norwegians believe that trade in polar bear fur must be banned.
- Even in northern Norway, with a long tradition of hunting, 54% of respondents believe the trade must be banned.
The commercial trade of polar bears, including their fur, is currently permitted under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
“The trade in polar bear fur is not sustainable and puts additional pressure on a very vulnerable species, already threatened by climate change”, says Ole J. Liodden, who has conducted years of research into the status of polar bears, “it also does not support local communities living within the polar bear habitat.”
“It is time that the international community put an end to this and ban international trade in polar bears once and for all,” says Vera Weber, president of Swiss-based Fondation Franz Weber (FFW), “It can all start with Norway.”