Changing Planet

Help Decelerate Polar Bears’ Rapid Decline

While there are only an estimated 20,000-25,000 polar bears currently remaining in the wild, each year, more than 400 polar bears are unnecessarily killed for commercial trade. We at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) are looking to put a stop to this pointless and wasteful practice.

Canada, which is home to 15,000 of the world’s existing bears, is the only country in the world where polar bears are legally hunted for international commercial trade and sport. As many as 440 polar bears are slain each year in the name of profit. While climate change-fueled habitat loss remains polar bears’ biggest threat, international trade calling for their paws, teeth and skulls is higher than ever before.

Unfortunately, growing international demand for polar bear parts has lead to a major increase in polar bear hunting—the second biggest threat to the species. From 2007 to 2012, we witnessed a 375 percent increase in the number of polar bear skins offered at auction, with their hides fetching record high prices in 2012.

Starting this week, countries from around the world will gather at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), where protection for polar bears will be an important topic of discussion. The United States, with support from the Russian Federation, is proposing prohibiting international commercial polar bear trade by uplisting the animals to Appendix I—the highest level of protection a species can receive.

An uplisting of the polar bear to Appendix I will outlaw international commercial trade of the polar bear –- thereby eliminating one of the most easily reversible threats to the species.

It is up to the 176 countries that comprise the Parties to the Convention (CoP) to ratify the U.S.’s proposal at the CITES meeting in Thailand. Only an all-out ban on unsustainable, international commercial polar bear trade will provide the protection the species needs to roam their habitat for years to come.

Polar bears are not souvenirs. They are an iconic, beautiful species that is rapidly disappearing. An uplisting is one of the best things we can do for them.

Jeffrey Flocken is North American Regional Director, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)

Jeffrey Flocken leads a team of legislative professionals advocating for U.S. policy initiatives on wildlife conservation and animal welfare in his role as Regional Director, North America from IFAWs office in Washington, D.C. His work addresses improving government involvement with wildlife conservation and animal welfare issues within the U.S. and internationally. Jeff was a member of the team of experts responsible for convincing eBay to ban ivory sales on all of its affiliated sites. He has testified before the U.S. Congress regarding polar bear legislation and was a member of the team of non-governmental organizations who wrote the technical petition to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to list the African lion under the Endangered Species Act. The listing, if approved, will have a significant impact on the survival of lions in the wild, as American hunters --who make up the majority of lion hunters globally-- would no longer be able to import trophies.  Jeff has briefed the U.S. Congress on the Great Cats and Rare Canids Act of 2009. In addition to that briefing, which urged support for conservation of rare canids and felids within their range states, he is co-author of the report which documents steep declines in the populations of these species. Jeff is the co-founder and co-chair of Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders, which provides training and mentoring to up-and-coming conservationists.
  • Annie Burke

    Unbelievable that our ‘civilized’ Neighbor to the North allows such a practice as taking endangered species for Trophies. How many animals must go extinct before we realize all that we’ve Lost for all Time? When these great beasts are Gone, those trophies will Forever be a ‘mark of Shame’ on their wealthy owners..Know that when you pull the trigger..Sincerely, Annie Burke

  • Ima Ryma

    In Canada, near Churchill town,
    The polar bears come in the fall
    To wait for sea ice to firm down
    On Hudson’s Bay by nature’s call.
    But climate change has made it so
    There is less ice upon the shore.
    The bears must stay, no where to go,
    Having humans round more and more.
    Being provoked or being hungry
    Is why a polar bear might harm
    Humans by instinct, and rare be,
    Rarer than humans with firearm.

    Humans who shoot the bears for sport.
    Which species is the sickest sort?

  • paulette

    if all you men who know and study all about our polar bears and know exactly what is going on and cant stop what is going on how can all us people stop it ,we are not the proffessionals we all love polar bears and don’t want them to disappear please do more .

  • Randy

    Facts are pesky things.Giv Enough already with the “we’ll all die without the nanny state” tripe.

  • tommy

    It is nice to have someone down south to have concern for polar bears. To what they reveal are so someone who lives in safe distance and never has to worry about encountering one of these beasts. In Baffin Island Inuit have always hunted polar bears long before you southerns ever heard of them. The polar bears will exist as long as they serve their purpose that they have been made for. From what show is that folks who write about polar bears are writing down somewhere where there are no ice year round. Therefore since you compare polar bears to yourselfe, you are five hundred times weaker than a cub. It is like you are studying polar bears as you would people in restrants. Where you can see them easily. Polar bears are known to kill caribou, catch narwhales kill walrus. And you say they can’t. Phoo!

  • Jacquie Pepper-Journal

    The damaging and inaccurate information presented in this article, and others like it, drastically misrepresent the sustainable and successful polar bear management system in Canada. The article’s assertion that “…more than 400 polar bears are unnecessarily killed for commercial trade” is a blatant falsehood. In fact, neither trade nor sport hunts have an impact on the number of bears that are allowed to be harvested annually.

    Each year government biologists and local wildlife boards work in collaboration to establish a Total Allowable Harvest or TAH for each polar bear population. The TAH represents the total number of polar bears that can be sustainably harvested from a population, without depleting the size of the population. These numbers are not influenced by market demand for hides, sport hunts, or other products derived from polar bears. Instead, they are based on detailed scientific data, population trends, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and past harvest information. Once the TAH is set, local communities are given the choice whether they wish to harvest the set number of bears for their own food and clothing, to sell the hides, or to allocate a portion of the total for sport hunts. All bears harvested are accounted for and the number does not change, no matter how the animal is used.

    Despite the drastic decline in sport hunts following the 2008 listing of polar bears under the US Endangered Species Act, the total number of bears harvested each year has remained the same (~460). Thus, the article’s statement that “growing international demand for polar bear parts has lead to a major increase in polar bear hunting” is entirely incorrect. There has been no annual increase in the number of bears harvested. In fact, the number of polar bears harvested in 2008-2009 was 463, while the number of bears harvested in 2011-2012 was 460 – a marginal decline, but certainly not a “major increase.”

  • lynn sheppeard

    I think this is awful! The idiots doing this should be imprisoned for animal cruelty. These people are just as cruel. Go to Toddy Desilva page and you will see videos that will make u sick.they take our dogs and cats and cut and strip their fur off of them while they r alive. Now we should be able to stop this.

  • lynn sheppeard

    The name is Roddy Desilva

  • Paul Flude

    First sentence. There are only 25,000 Polar bears in the world. Only? this is not such a small number for a top predator in such a demanding ecosystem. Polar bears are mostly solitary and need hundreds of square mile ranges in order to survive. You could say oh my gosh there are only 55,000 grizzlies but this also does not mean they are in any serious danger. There are hundreds of billions of ants. does that constitute an overpopulation? number are meaningless without context

  • Joshua D

    I am Disgusted to find out that Canada allows the hunting of a species with so few left on the planet. It just Isn’t right.

  • Santi

    Why would someone hunt a polar bear for sport?!?! I do not see the challenge there. Unless the hunter plans to wrestle it with his bare hands. I suggest they hunt for “sport” something more challenging.. hunting for a cure for the various diseases around the world, hunting rapists & murderers.. put your hunting skills to use there..

  • BB in CA

    Baby seals aren’t enough? Dear Canadians: No one needs you to kill polar bears or baby seals.

  • Rowan

    So.. who do we contact to put pressure on to uplist them?

    Regardless of whether the harvest of polar bears is meant to be sustainable, it has to take into account that numbers are declining due to non-hunting activities and anything we can do to help bring the numbers up again is worth more than selling some skins.

  • Fred

    Dear Jacquie Pepper-Journal;
    Government biologists of the third reich also conducted scientific surveys of the jewish people who were slaughtered.
    That does not make it acceptable.

  • Matan

    STOP KILLING Polar Bears!!!

    Shame for humanity.

  • J.L.S

    Using the term ‘harvested’ when speaking of an animal just makes me feel slightly ill.

  • Jenessa

    It is terrible to kill an endangered animal if you’re life isn’t in danger, but the hunting isn’t the reason they’re numbers are low. It’s because of the arctic ice melting. There’s evidence that says it’s because of burning fossil fuels (a lot of which are burned in mass production). We’re all contributing support for these industries, especially us with a North American standard of living. So, even though it is important to protect the polar bears now, don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re helping to destroy this place too. Don’t talk about hunters with such disgust because sometime we don’t all get to live in big smoggy cities with office jobs and buy our food at the grocery store.

    Also, nice job on the cute pictures that make the bears seem like teddy bears, and help us forget the fact that yes, they will probably rip our heads off given the chance.

  • Amy

    Any hunting of predatory animals should not be legal. Especially polar bears.

  • Tim

    @Jacquie—–The bears are not being ‘Harvested’ they are being killed!

  • Megan

    Even if the hunting is being monitored it should not be allowed. If we have such a high decline in the polar bears, do you think hunting is helping? No! We should be worrying about saving the polar bears from extinction and helping increase the population of the polar bears rather than hunting and putting them in great harm, this makes me so angry! Polar bears have always been my most favourite animal, I’ve always been so fascinated with their beauty and intelligence. They are truly an astonishing creature. How anyone in their right mind want to harm them or watch them disappear. Please help save the polar bears,they mean so much to this earth.

  • kimberly colclough

    The fact that polar bear are already struggling to survive due to climate change and that is has already declined their number by a lot !!! I think that hunting should be band. There numbers will only depleat faster!! That goes for any animal that is becoming at risk!!!! please don’t allow this to continue!!

  • Kathy Brassard

    Jacquie Pepper-Journal it amazes me that you’re bringing up a decline of 3 killings in a 3 year period. Why kill them at all especially if they’re on the endangered species list? Leave them be. Also, governments need to step in to protect these beautiful creatures. How many incidents do you hear of polar bears killing humans? They live where they are and bother no one.

  • Hew Hamilton

    Do a little research before you post articles AND comments like some of these knee jerk replies. Polar bear populations are near record highs. Managed hunts do not damage the overall population. This has been proven time after time, with duck and deer populations.

    “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that the polar bear population is currently at 20,000 to 25,000 bears, up from as low as 5,000-10,000 bears in the 1950s and 1960s. A 2002 U.S. Geological Survey of wildlife in the Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain noted that the polar bear populations ‘may now be near historic highs,'” it read.

  • Guy H

    To Jacquie Pepper-Journal: anyone who refers to the “harvesting” of bears has obviously lost a considerable amount of perspective. What’s more you’re referring to official, declared figures. I’m doubtful that every bear… “harvested” as you say, is done so legally.

  • Eric

    I think this is awful! The idiots doing this should be imprisoned for animal cruelty. These people are just as cruel. Guns should be banned and no question asked!!!

  • Steve

    We hunt and kill animals in this world. Some of them look cute and cuddly as babies. These hunts actually sound pretty well run from what I have seen. The comment about climate change is true! If you care about these animals, look at what you are doing to destroy their habitat before you talk about the killing of a few. Climate change could kill all of them and you will just sit back smugly and blame the hunters?

  • Marcia Huyette

    Sadly, the Greed and Need of the human race is depleting the world. I have a feeling we will “get what’s coming to us.”

  • Aaron Swanta

    Please stop destroying nature’s beauty!

  • Karen Cummings

    If the number of tags issued to “harvest” polar bears has not increased, how is it that trade in furs/parts has increased by 375% between 2007 and 2012? How are these getting on the market? I think we have to focus on what CITES is concentrating on … which is illegal trade. I’d have to learn a lot more about what auction houses use as proof of how the product was obtained (do they ask to see the tag?) – but it seems to me that if they’re still getting to auction … that whatever policing currently in place isn’t sufficient – therefore making all international trade of polar bear parts/products illegal seems a rational response. International trade should not affect the Inuit community – if indeed they are hunting the animals for food/their own use – and/or even selling a tag to a hunter – if they’re not going to sell it’s parts on the international market. Again … I will claim a certain amount of ignorance … but, how would banning international trade affect the legal rights of the Inuit community to hunt polar bears for the uses they claim they hunt them for?

  • Rosanna Brost

    Please remember international readers, just because a government has a stupid policy regarding the hunting of a given animal doesn’t mean that its people agree with it. Most don’t. I wish Canada would stop focusing so much on lethal ‘predator control’ by culling their populations and focus more on preserving their habitat, so that we don’t come into combatant situations with them. I’d love to see Canada ban the hunting of ALL large carnivores instead of letting people shoot them for an ego trip. There’s no reason to kill these animals in the modern world – we should be protecting biodiversity, not hindering it by thinning populations and destroying viable DNA. In Africa one of the reasons the cheetah is endangered is because they are all too closely related to each other – must we make other species suffer so? There’s no excuse for killing predatory animals like polar bears. We need to step out of our comfortable human perspective and see our planet from a critical, non-human, global view. There is can be no profit when our descendants have to pay the price for our greed.

  • Stu P

    Re the comments by Jacquie-Pepper Journal,

    I hope that a comment like yours displaying arrogance and a total disregard to animal welfare is seen by millions and that it damages your local tourist industry.

    I find it very sad that in this modern age Canada, a modern civilised society still boasts about the fact that Seals are clubbed to death and Polar Bears are ‘harvested’.

    Hopefully, one day all this ‘harvesting’ nonsense will all be banned and someone will turn the tables in favour of the animals.

    I’d like to see a sport where Polar Bears chase people like you around the ice, Seals use hakipiks and Whales armed with harpoons attack Faroese, Japanese and Icelandic whalers – see how you like it!

  • Doug Brockman

    I think it is hopeless. We may as well hunt them because they are doomed by climate change. Maybe some good such as bear rugs may come out of it.

  • Kelsey Eliasson

    Fairly simple solution – replace the income provided by bear hunting with something else. A ban will accomplish nothing other than to further alienate the north.

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (

Social Media