Monthly Archives: February 2007

Polar Bears Under Threat

For the Welland Tribune: By Adam Shoalts

If there is one animal on earth that you would probably not want to find yourself vis-a-vis with it is Ursus maritimus—otherwise known as the polar bear. These formidable animals are the world’s largest terrestrial carnivores.

Author and wildlife biologist Jerome Knapp noted that, “The polar bear is not afraid of man. It recognizes no enemy.” Little wonder considering adult males weigh on average between 420-500 kg, and some larger bears have even weighed in at a staggering 800 kg.

The reader need not fear though, as polar bears–extraordinary as this may sound–do not live quite this far south.

On the other hand, black bears did once roam the forests of Niagara. Regrettably, they have long since been extirpated. Habitat lost as a result of human population growth rendered Niagara and the rest of Southern Ontario unsuitable for bears.

(Although thanks to Marineland and similar establishments, it is still possible to view bears right here in Niagara. Though the effect of seeing docile bears in captivity does not generally produce the same sort of awe when viewing bears in the wild.)

But to return to my original bear subspecies, the polar bear.

Polar bears have attracted a fair amount of media coverage over the last few years because of their plight. Global warming and other factors, such as hunting and pollution (i.e. oil spills) have led to a decline in the number of bears.

Warming temperatures result in decreasing sea ice, which limits the portion of the year bears are able to hunt for their primary prey, seals. For years concerned biologists have been documnenting the dire events: some bears are literally dying of starvation.

The threat to the polar bears has become so serious that even the United States government (which is not generally known for its greeness) recently announced that the species is under formal consideration to be designated as a “threatened” species.

Such a designation would make it illegal to import polar bear parts (i.e. tanned hides, which are valued at upwards of $3,000) into the United States.

This created something of a panic in Northern Canada, specifically Nunavut. With the exception of Manitoba, hunting polar bears in this country is still legal in every province and territory in which the bears live, including Ontario.

Nunavut has good reason to be alarmed at the developments in the United States. In Nunavut, there is a lucrative sport hunting business in which wealthy Americans pay top-dollar (usually $20,000 according to the Canadian government) for the chance to kill a bear.

The bear hunt is estimated to generate $1 million annually in Nunavut. Which explains Nunavut’s icy reaction to the recent developments in the United States.

Nunavut environment Minister Patterk Netser responded with great scientific acumen, stating that, “There’s a lot of uninformed people and these people feed on the ignorance of these people and force governments to make…policies that are very reactive…”

Not surprisingly, Netser also said that Nunavut will submit a formal objection to listing polar bears as a threatened species to the U.S. government.

There are approximately 22,000 to 25,000 polar bears in the wild, of which some 60 percent are estimated to live in Canada.

Currently, an estimated 400 polar bears are legally killed each year in Nunavut. Nunavut’s government recently approved plans to increase that figure by 28 percent.

Fortunately, the resulting uproar from wildlife biologists was enough to force the rescinding of that ill-considered decision.

In addition, an uncertain number of polar bears are killed legally in other Canadian provinces and territories, and of course, poachers claim their share as well.

In 2002, Environment Canada designated the polar bear as a species at risk under the category “special concern.” Prudence dictates that more concrete measures should be adopted without delay.

A moratorium on the hunting of these magnificent animals sounds perfectly reasonable.
As for any fears of economic losses to the sport hunting industry of Nunavut, there are in fact proven alternatives.

For instance, the northern community of Churchill, Manitoba, has capitalized on its local bears by catering to tourists who want to view these awesome animals in the wild.

With global warming inexorably increasing, the long-term survival of the polar bear is already in jeopardy.

Solving that enormous problem promises to be a taxing challenge, but ending the polar bear hunt is a simple proposal that will help alleviate the polar bear’s plight.

By Adam Shoalts for The Welland Tribune.