Polar bears are a symbol of man’s destruction of the environment. The image of the polar bear on a broken piece of polar ice serves very well as a symbol of the fight against time to save the environment before it is too late. Polar bears have become an indicator of the health of the Arctic ecosystem, so it would come as a surprise that every year around 300 polar bears are legally killed or harvested’ trophy hunters from around the world go to Canada for hunting polar bear in the Arctic.
Polar bear hunting Across the world
The hunting of polar bears is banned or restricted in all the regions where it is found. Polar bear habitats are found in only five countries of the world – Canada, USA, Norway, Russia and Denmark (Greenland). Of these, only Norway has an instituted a complete ban on hunting polar bears.
In Russia and the USA, a strictly limited number of polar bears can be hunted by the indigenous people for subsistence. Greenland has recently allowed the hunting of polar bears by indigenous people which also allows some recreational hunting. Only Canada, which hosts about two-thirds of the world’s polar bear population allows subsistence hunting as well as commercial hunting of polar bears.
What is Subsistence Hunting?
The indigenous people of the Canadian Arctic have coexisted with polar bears for centuries. The Inuit have been hunting polar bears for years for its pelt, meat fat, and other body parts. Because of the lack of economic activity in the farthest regions of Canada, the Canadian government issues each village a quota of hunting licenses every season, which are allotted to indigenous hunters by a lottery. The hunters are paid a fixed amount for every killed polar bear as well as the proceeds from the pelt. The number of bears harvested every year is tightly controlled to ensure that the population levels stay stable. In this way, the Inuit are allowed to maintain their way of life while also being given an opportunity to sustain themselves.
In addition to subsistence hunting, the Canadian government also allows commercial hunting of polar bears. Hunting licenses are issued on the condition that each hunting trip includes an Inuit guide. Trophy hunting companies that organize hunting tours for trophy hunters, most of who come from foreign countries such as the USA. The hunting season lasts from March to May and August to October. Hunting companies claim that the hunts are sex-selective so that no more than a third of harvested bears are female.
How is a hunt conducted?
A hunt is conducted with a dog team that chases the polar bear. Each hunting party includes an Inuit guide who helps track the bear. Once the bear is tired and distracted by the dogs, it is killed using a hunting rifle or a hunting bow. The bear can only be chased across the ground on a dog sled and chasing the bear aerially or through a motorized vehicle is not allowed. A typical hunting trip may last up to 10 days but ends as soon as the bear is killed.
Canada has a bear population of about 16,000. Of these, about 300 are hunted every year by subsistence hunters and trophy hunters. Critics of commercial hunting call the hunt cruel and claim commercial hunting will push an already threatened species towards extinction. Hunting advocates, on the other hand, say that responsible hunting has kept the polar bear population stable for many years and climate change is a much bigger threat to polar bears than commercial hunting.