Monday, April 16, 2007

Russia Tries To Save Polar Bears in Legal Hunt



This was in the New York Times today, and it was written by Steven Lee Meyers. It's a short piece about how in Vankarem, Russia, they have decided to legalize the hunting of polar bears to help to prevent illegal poaching of the bear.

Meyers used the word "counterintuitive" to describe this action. I'm still trying to sort my thoughts out on this one.

According to the article, the Russian government banned the hunting of polar bears in 1956 after there was a sharp drop due to over-zealous hunters. Every year, they carry out a census and then come up with a quota that the hunter can work with, then the ban is partly lifted so that this quota can be met. Polar bear meat is important in Russian culture, in terms of fur and meat- so as I understand, it would be a sort of culture abhoration if there were no polar bear hunts whatsoever.

For the past couple of years, because the sea ice that the polar bears survive on (a mental iimage of one crouching on the sea ice, waiting to whack the head of a seal comes to mind) has been melting and also because winter has been arriving later, there have been more and more polar bears hanging out at the shore of Vankarem. Since 2003, there have been three attacks by the bears, and the village has had guards in the fall to monitor the safety of the village.

Although I do think it's not exactly rational logic that makes a government think that a lifting of a ban would prevent, or at least lessen, an action, there is something else that is far stranger. So, the Russian government banned the hunting of polar bears in 1956 with the purpose of stopping the rapid decline of their population. While this law is in effect, the hunting continues, though illegally, and as many as a hundred are killed every year (and this number is only under the "Illegal" label- let's not forget those yearly jaunts when the government temporarily lifts the ban.) There is currently an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears left in the world, and the U.S. is thinking of including them on the list of threatened species.

Why would they think that a law, that was originally set to enforce it and that did absolutely nothing to enforce it, would further enforce it when it is done away?

Anyway, the article ends with a quote by Stanislav Belikov, who helped to set the rules for the resumed polar bear hunt, who also said that "the threat of climate change and poaching made urgent measures necessary."

"In 50 years," he said. "We may only be able to tell our grandchildren that these creatures existed here."

What was that quote supposed to do? Affirm my cynicism that this new law (or lack of law) will make it so that we had to tell our grandchildren about them because they couldn't possibly see it for themselves because these animals would be extinct? I just don't understand this placement of the quote or the set up, it seems so- counterintuitive. And confusing.

Unless, of course, if Meyers is trying to show his disdain for the lifting of the ban by placing this quote there, so that it would seem incredibly stupid for someone allowing the killings of polar bear to say that he wanted his grandkids to see polar bears in the future. If that is what he meant: Well-played, Meyers.

Speaking of polar bears, did anyone see the cover of Vanity Fair (I think) with Leonardo DiCaprio posing on ice with a baby polar bear? The first thing I thought when I saw that was that it was definitely photoshopped because Leo looked like he was floating on the ice. But he wasn't, and it was taken by celebrity photography, Annie Leibovitz. Huh, that must make it good then.

I also felt a little sick, mostly because the polar bear is now used as the mascot for all things environment-related- and we, the public, are just amazed by how cute and wonderful it is. "We must stop global warming for those polar bears- they look so cuddly." I don't underestimate the public into thinking it in exactly those terms, but why should stopping global warming have anything to do with whether the animals are babies or not?

Did anyone see Happy Feet? My friend said that the ending was like a slap in his face- I really need to watch that movie.

Link for article: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/16/world/europe/16polar.html?ref=todayspaper
Link for Vanity Fair cover: http://www.vanityfair.com/magazine/toc/2007/toc200705

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