Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Hunters Target Russian Polar Bears

A mother polar bear and first season cub photographed from the
deck of a cruise vessel in the Chukchi Sea. Photo: Roderick Eime

A group of concerned scientists and environmentalists have called for the Russian Government to block passage of legislation that may see the re-introduction of polar bear hunting in the remote Chukotka region of Russia.

"Many people are concerned about the situation with polar bears worldwide. Several populations are known to be declining, among which is the Chukotka-Alaska population.  It is well known that poachers in Chukotka kill up to 300 animals per year.  Introducing a quota would in reality, only serve to legalize the poaching," their partition reads in part.

Addressed to the Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology, Yury Trutnev, the group, led by Deputy Director of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Wrangel Island State Natural Reserve, Nikita Ovsyannikov, said the decision to reintroduce a quota could be a serious threat to the local bear population.

Russian media has reported that there are from 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears in the wild, including up to 7,000 in Russia. Russian experts say poachers kill from 300 to 700 bears annually. Melting Arctic ice affects the climate of the entire planet. Global warming has already driven polar bears to cannibalism and may threaten the lives of a quarter of the world's population by 2100.

Last month, the biodiversity program coordinator at WWF-Russia, Vladimir Krever, said polar bear hunting, with an annual quota of 29 animals per year, might begin on Russia's Chukotka Peninsula next year.

The illegal trade in polar bear hides, a species in steady decline throughout the Arctic, is on the rise in Russia.