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Polar bears added to endangered list

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Issue: 37 Section: Canadian News Geography: North Topics: habitat, climate change

May 16, 2006

Polar bears added to endangered list

by Salvatore Ciolfi

Long understood to be struggling under the pressure of changes in its habitat, the polar bear, a fierce symbol of the untamed North, has had its plight officially recognized. The animal was one of 530 species added to the World Conservation Union's "Red List" of endangered species.

The Union, or IUCN, is a multicultural, multilingual organization based in Gland, Switzerland, that has been documenting the conservation status of species and subspecies on a global scale. Their "Red List," which was released on May 2, had not been updated for two years.

The inclusion of the polar bear does not come as a surprise to many. Because they rely on sea ice for hunting, traveling and mating, the polar bears' existence is directly tied to the ongoing climate change. Studies on a population in Hudson Bay have shown that the population has declined by 15 per cent in the last 10 years and that polar bears in the region are skinnier than they used to be.

The World Conservation Union also predicts that polar bear populations will decline by more than 30 per cent in the next 45 years, unless the current global warming trend is halted, an event that seems unlikely given the increased energy demands worldwide.

The bleakness of the animals' plight is reflected in their new branding on the conservation list. Previously, the polar bear had been listed in the less-severe "Conservation Dependent" category. The 2006 list, however, has them listed as "Vulnerable." This is one level down from the "Endangered" ranking.

There has been talk of the polar bear being added to the U.S. Endangered List, a nomination that would force all federal decisions to consider the effects of their actions on the animal. So far, however, the mighty northern bear can only hope to remain "Vulnerable."

CBC North

National Geographic

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