This week on Now You Know, Kathryn Sussman talks with author & conservationist Morten Jorgensen about polar bears – the charismatic icons that exemplify global warming for humans around the world. Part of this month’s topic on Canadian animals in danger, Jorgensen discusses the main threats facing polar bears in the wild and provides an understanding of what we are doing wrong and where we, as Canadians, are failing to protect this threatened yet iconic species.

In this jaw-dropping interview, Jorgensen explains how all risks to wild polar bear populations are human-posed. While global warming is the best-known, according to Jorgensen, the most dangerous is in fact overhunting.

Polar bears have evolved in a pristine and isolated ice-age environment. Now beset by habitat reduction and food shortages, both caused by rising temperatures, they also face less obvious challenges including the introduction of new pathogens and the arrival of invasive species from warmer climates. Add to that the constant depletion of the oceans by overfishing and hunting of marine mammals, such as seals and walruses that polar bears traditionally live off, and polar bears who already live at “the top of the world” in Morten’s words, have nowhere to go.

In his book Polar Bears on the Edge, Jorgensen provides evidence of what is generally unknown – nearly 1000 polar bears are shot annually, or an average of 3 bears shot every day. Jorgensen explains that the 1972 agreement among all 5 polar bear nations was meant to protect polar bears by banning commercial and non-indigenous hunting, allowing only traditional indigenous hunting. However, according to him, various people who have a vested interest in the hunt, be it politicians, managers, scientists, lobbyists, community leaders, and even NGOs, have used that agreement to actually continue and even escalate the hunt ever since.

Illegal poaching is still a reality everywhere in the Arctic, even in the 2 countries where legal hunting is forbidden (Russia and Norway). Yet, out of the 3 nations still legally allowing the polar bear hunt (Canada, Alaska, Denmark/Greenland), Canada is the only one selling online auctions and trophy hunts to non indigenous peoples. It is also the only country that continues to export polar bear parts to the rest of the world. Jorgensen explains that the vast majority of polar bear killings are still commercialized even when the hunt is performed by members of indigenous communities – the means used to track and kill bears are not traditional and the purpose is commercial in nature.

“While almost everybody for some time has been crying that global warming must be stopped in order to save the polar bear, or conversely, if we don’t stop global warming then polar bears will suffer, in all of that, hardly anybody ever mentions the fact that we are on a global scale hunting the polar bear to an extent which actually by itself will drive the species towards extinction.” – Morten Jorgensen.

Now you know!

Be part of the change!

  • Before deciding whether to donate to an organization or not – ask them if they support hunting polar bears.
  • Participate in discussions and share your knowledge to educate your network on the effect polar bear hunting has on their survival as a species.
  • Ask questions and confront scientists, NGOs, politicians and hunters – let them know that hunting polar bears is an added pressure – on top of climate change – to their survival.
  • Ask your Members of Parliament (MP) to initiate an international agreement for the protection of polar bears which incorporates a moratorium on hunting polar bears.
  • Ask your MP to up-list polar bears from Appendix II of CITES to Appendix I. This would stop all international trade in polar bear parts.
  • Help us spread the word by sharing this podcast in your network!

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    Kathryn, Gen and the Now You Know team.

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