Poaching threatens Russian polar bears

March 22, 2013 at 6:15 PM

MOSCOW, March 22 (UPI) -- As many as 200 polar bears are being killed yearly by poachers in Russia's far east, threatening a shrinking population of the animals, wildlife advocates say.

Poaching is seen as a serious danger to the polar bear population, which stands at around 1,500 in the Chukotka region, the International Fund for Animal Welfare said Thursday.

The poaching figure applies only to Chukotka bears, one of the four subpopulations of polar bear across the Russian Arctic, fund officials said.

"Nobody knows what's happening with two other subpopulations of the central Arctic, in the Kara Sea and the Laptev Sea," Maria Vorontsova, head of IFAW's Russian branch, told RIA Novosti. "There's no poaching in one other subpopulation, which we share with Norway."

Although polar bear hunting has been banned in Russia since 1957, it allows the import of bearskins from Canada, where hunting is legal.

Wildlife advocates say this encourages Russian poachers, who can obtain a forged Canadian certificate for $1,000 then sell a bearskin from a poached animal for as much as $30,000.

The polar bear population across the Russian arctic is estimated at 5,000-6,000 animals.

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