Hunting of polar bears for their skins and trophies must be banned or the iconic Arctic species will die out, a conservationist has warned.
Not only are the animals battling to survive the impact of climate change, which is melting the ice they need to hunt on, but trophy hunters and a soaring demand for their skins in China are speeding their extinction.
Awarding-winning wildlife photographer and conservationist Ole Liodden, who has spent four years working on a project to highlight their plight, also told how hunters target the healthiest, strongest males, which leaves only the weakest individuals to pass on their genes.
He warned: “We have to stop trophy hunting and the commercial skin trade.
“It is the only way polar bears have a chance of survival in a future with global warming.
Nearly 9,000 polar bears were killed by hunters in the Arctic between 2007 and 2016, the most recent figures available.
More than 50,000 polar bears have been killed since 1960 – twice as many as today’s remaining population.
The figures, much higher than previous estimates, were only brought to light after the lawyers forced the Canadian government to release them under Freedom of Information laws.
Explaining the allure of the species, he told the Mirror: “The polar bear is one of the most exclusive species for trophy hunters to pursue. But it is the mammal species least suitable because of low cub survival, low reproduction rate, and climate change.
“Although a warmer climate may largely determine the future distribution of polar bears, the vast majority of population reductions over the past 30 years are attributable to unsustainable hunting.”
Polar bear trophy hunting started in Alaska, USA, and Svalbard, Norway, in the 1940s, with only a few killed.
But the expeditions attracted wealthy clients, who fuelled an industry that soon used planes, helicopters and ships to pursue the bears.Russia banned polar bear hunting in 1957, followed by the USA in 1972 and Norway a year later.
Canada’s Arctic region is now the only place in the world where hunting polar bears is still legal.
Liodden says some Inuit leaders are against trophy hunting but that the Canadian government encourages them to act as guides for it.
Skins can fetch up to £60,000.
Last summer a Daily Mirror investigation uncovered a host of firms offering hunts in the Arctic Circle marketed as “the most memorable” trophy collectors would ever find.
For £36,000 the 12-day hunts include the services of a taxidermist.
The companies proudly boast “100% success rates”.
There are 20,000-25,000 polar bears left in the wild, according to the World Wildlife Fund. But that number could be cut by two thirds by mid-century if the Arctic continues to warm, and they are “vulnerable” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List.
The Mirror is campaigning for a ban on the cruel trophy industry.
Eduardo Goncalves, founder of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, said: “Why the hell are we allowing trophy hunters to kill them for fun?
“Trophy hunters kill the biggest animals, removing the genes needed to help it survive global warming.
“It’s another reason why trophy hunting is a crime against nature.”
This article was first published by The Mirror on 24 January 2020.
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