The polar bear is the largest living land carnivore. It is at the top of its food chain and has no natural predators. It primarily inhabits the Arctic Circle, regularly hunting seals from the edges of sea ice. Polar bear populations are estimated to be between 20-25,000 individuals.
However that figure seems likely to change within the next 25 years. There are multiple threats to polar bears, among them the threats of: loss of habitat due to climate change, hundreds of losses per year due to hunting, and the everpresent pollutant danger common to all marine apex predators.
According to Nikita Ovsyanikov and Masha Vorontsova, two researchers for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Polar Bear Specialist Group, these factors are likely to wipe out the majority (or even the entirety) of the population within the next several decades.
Polar bears, as a species, are no strangers to climate change, having lived through several periods of global warming in the past. However, its effects, combined with the harms done by hunting and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) could prove disastrous if something does not change soon.
Polar bears are often hunted in order to be sold for parts. Skulls and hides are popular in Russia and China, and often sell for a lot since hunting is banned in most countries. Aboriginal populations, however, are allowed to hunt polar bears using traditional methods. Unfortunately, these hunting quotas get leased to foreign hunters who tend to overharvest the bears. It is estimated that between 400 and 600 bears are hunted each year – a significant proportion of the overall population.
The IUCN has begun an ad campaign raising awareness for the dwindling populations. Time will tell whether it will be effective. Until then, the best way to decrease hunting is to decrease demand – so you might consider keeping polar bear fur coats off of your holiday wish-list.