MOSCOW, March 21 (RIA Novosti) – Russia is losing up to 200 polar bears every year to poachers in the far eastern Chukotka region, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said Thursday.
Maria Vorontsova, who heads IFAW’s Russian branch, says the trend poses a grave danger to the shrinking polar bear population in Chukotka, which currently stands at around 1,500.
The figures – provided by the Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature – relate only to one of the four subpopulations of polar bear across the Russian Arctic.
“Nobody knows what’s happening with two other subpopulations of the central Arctic, in the Kara Sea and the Laptev Sea,” Vorontsova said. “There’s no poaching in one other subpopulation, which we share with Norway.”
The total polar bear population across the Russian Arctic is estimated at between 5,000 and 6,000 animals.
Although polar bear hunting has been prohibited in Russia since 1957, the country allows the import of bearskins from Canada, where hunting is permitted.
Environmentalists say this encourages Russian poachers to forge Canadian certificates, which they say can be done for 30,000 rubles ($1,000). That is a fraction of the current market price for bearskins in Russia, which can sell for around 1 million rubles ($30,000).
Vorontsova says more than 30,000 bearskins have been sold worldwide over the past decade.
The current global population of polar bears is around 21,000 animals.
Russia could ban the import of polar bear skins by 2014, Oleg Panteleyev, a member of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian legislature, told RIA Novosti on Thursday.
Russia and the United States joined forces earlier this month in a failed effort to lobby for a global ban on the trade of polar bear parts.
Thirty-eight nations voted in favor of the proposal at a meeting on March 7 in Bangkok of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. But 42 nations voted against and 46 abstained, dooming the motion.