A conservation expert has warned that polar bears will become extinct if trophy hunting is allowed to continue.
Since 1960, more than 50,000 polar bears have been killed – to put that into context, that is twice the number of the polar bears left in the world.
With their survival already under threat due to the effects of climate change, trophy hunting and a growing demand for polar bear hides in China are pushing them rapidly to the brink of extinction.
Wildlife photographer, author and conservationist Ole Jørgen Liodden has spent four years working on a project that focuses on the grave dangers facing this beautiful species, publishing his findings in a book entitled Polar Bears and Humans.
Although the effects of global warming on polar bears have been widely reported, there has been less discussion surrounding the impact of trophy hunting on population numbers.
Writing on his website, Liodden said:
Most of the Polar bear conservation projects today are only focusing on climate change and global warming. It is very important to protect the Arctic environment to secure the ecosystem with drifting ice for Arctic animals, but it is also important to protect the animals themselves.
Polar bears have become the main symbol for global warming, and big conservation campaigns are published with images of polar bears. Human removals (killing) of polar bears are rarely mentioned in these campaigns at all.
A big problem when working with polar bear conservation is the fact that information about polar bear hunting is hidden, very limited, only available for shorter periods or only referred to as ‘sustainable’ without any concerns.
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According to Liodden, the vast majority of population reductions over the past three decades can be attributed to unsustainable hunting. Furthermore, for at least the next 10 to 15 years hunting will most probably continue playing a major role in determining polar bear population trends.
Despite this, the majority of people are left in the dark as to how many polar bears are killed every year and where. There is also a notable lack of awareness in terms of who the hunters are, and how hunting activity has changed over the past 40 to 50 years.
Speaking with the Mirror, Liodden emphasised the need to put a stop to trophy hunting before polar bears vanish altogether:
We have to stop trophy hunting and the commercial skin trade. It is the only way polar bears have a chance of survival.
Liodden explained how hunters will target the healthiest and strongest male bears, leaving only the weakest animals to reproduce and pass on their genes.
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 began in the 1940s, in Alaska, USA, and Svalbard, Norway, with just a few animals being killed. However, expeditions quickly attracted rich clients, fuelling an industry that soon used planes, helicopters and ships to hunt the animals on a larger scale.
In 1957, Russia implemented a ban on polar bear hunting, with the USA following suit in 1972 and Norway doing so a year later. Canada’s Arctic region is now the only place on Earth where polar bear hunting is still legal.
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Four days ago we parked our expedition ship in the drifting ice at approx. 81,5 degree North. There were no polar bears to see in the evening and early night, but when the fog lifted in the morning a polar bear visited our ship. I had my polcam UW setup ready and got some nice wide angle split photos. One of the best ways of photographing polar bears in Svalbard is to just wait in the ice, and let the polar bears decide if they want to come close or not. ⠀ ⠀ #svalbard #polarbear #liodden #instaanimal #animals #earthpix #natureaddict #earthimage #allnatureshots #special_shots #exklusive_shot #igworldclub #wildlifeplanet #earthimage #globaldaily #WildlifeAddicts #Wildlifepage #discoverwildlife #anmlsworld #exclusive_animals #animalplanet_Fan #wildlifecentral #insta_animal #naturegeography #Instagram #ilovenorway #igscwildlife #cewejapanphoto #sonynordic #sailracingofficial
Liodden told the Mirror Inuit leaders in Canada are against trophy hunting, however they are encouraged to act as guides by the Canadian government.
According to the most recent figures, almost 9,000 polar bears were killed by hunters in the Arctic between the years 2007 and 2016. To put this in context, there are now just 20,000- 25,000 polar bears left in the wild.
Find out more about Liodden’s polar bear project and how you can buy his book here here.
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