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Posted on Dec 09, 02:11PM | IANS
For a millennium, the majestic, lily-white polar bear has lorded over the frozen wastes of the Arctic. But if two Russian experts are to be believed, the enigmatic "monarch of the ice" could be extinct in 25 years due to global warming and human incursions into their traditional habitat.
"If current policies are not changed, we can lose polar bears, which currently number 20,000-25,000 globally, within one (human) generation," Nikita Ovsyanikov, member of the polar bear specialist group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), told IANS.
Ovsyanikov and his compatriot, Masha Vorontsova, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare in Russia, were here for the 21st International Conference on Bear Research and Management organised by the environment and forests ministry and many wildlife NGOs.
The polar bear (or Ursinus Maritimus), the largest member of the Ursidae (bear) family, is also the largest terrestrial land carnivore and is found largely within the Arctic Circle encompassing the Arctic Ocean, its surrounding seas and land masses.
"Today, this area belongs to five nations: Denmark (which administers Greenland), Norway (which administers the Svalbard archipelago), Canada, the United States (of which Alaska is a part) and Russia," said Ovsyanikov.
So, why is the polar bear in grave danger? "It mainly faces threats such as habitat loss due to global warming and continuing human incursions into the Arctic, pollution, hunting for sport and subsistence as well as trade in body parts," he added.
Both scientists feel that hunting and the trade in body parts are the most serious threat facing the polar bear.
The bear has been hunted since times immemorial by indigenous Arctic people, including the Inuit and Eskimos in Alaska and Canada and Yupiks, Nenets, Chukchis and Pomors in Russia. But they never hunted the species in excess of their requirements.
Trouble started with white European expansion and colonisation of the Arctic. The Europeans brought modern hunting practices and the notion of supply and demand of bear parts dictated by market forces. Everything has gone downhill after that.
In the later part of the twentieth century, the five nations finally woke up to the threat.
"The Soviet Union banned all hunting in 1956," Vorontsova told IANS.