CITES listings are all about controlling international trade in wildlife. At WWF we often support complete trade bans, for example when it comes to tigers and rhinos. But right now polar bears are a different case - and we'll tell you why.
The big threat to polar bears is climate change and loss of the Arctic sea ice they need to survive – it's not to do with international trade.
Polar bears don’t actually meet the criteria set by CITES for an Appendix I listing (an outright trade ban) – not in terms of either population size, rate of decline or area of distribution.
Some hunting and trading of polar bears does happen, mainly by indigenous people in the Arctic region for whom the bears are a vital resource. There are quotas set in Canada, for example. Simply 'uplisting' the polar bear on CITES (from its current 'Appendix II' restricted trade status to an 'Appendix I’ ban) would have a negligible effect on protecting the species – it wouldn’t even affect Canada’s domestic rules.
And it could actually give a false sense of security, deflecting attention away from the main threat to the bears, namely the warming and loss of their Arctic home.
If, at some stage in the future, polar bear populations do become so diminished by climate change and habitat loss, and international trade does present a greater threat, we would want to revisit the CITES listing issue. But we're not at that point.
Right now there's more to be gained by continuing efforts to reduce climate change and working closely with indigenous people in polar bear range states, as they're the people who live and work most closely with the bears, and can help us ensure the long-term survival of this iconic species.
Trade in polar bears should continue to be closely monitored (see the latest TRAFFIC report on polar bears). If trade increases dangerously and/or the population significantly declines, we would certainly want to re-assess the CITES listing, as we would for any species.
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