Protecting endangered species

Submitted by Richard Smith

You may have come across animal displays like this taxidermied polar bear hide (Figure 1) in airports across Canada. Have you ever wondered why they are there or how they got there? Take a minute during your next layover to read the inscriptions. The stories may surprise you!

In 1992, Canada passed the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA). This solidified our commitments to the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), which governments signed in 1975 to protect endangered and threatened species of animals and plants from over-exploitation by regulating their international trade.

On March 31, 2013, officers from Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Wildlife Enforcement Directorate and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) examined a private jet departing for Mexico from Winnipeg. Officers discovered and seized 3 polar bear hides, 3 narwhal tusks, cameras and firearms. They also seized a bear baculum (penis bone), which is sometimes kept for traditional use or more often as a novelty.

4 Mexican hunters were convicted under WAPPRIITA for unlawfully transporting polar bear parts from Nunavut and attempting to export polar bear parts from Canada without CITES authorizations. 2 of the hunters were also convicted of transporting narwhal tusks without the proper permits required under the Marine Mammal Regulations of the Fisheries Act. Fines for the various offences totalled $80,000. Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) directs funds from fines, court orders, and voluntary payments into the Environmental Damages Fund to support projects that benefit our natural environment.

We often use confiscated items in educational displays and programs to bring attention to worldwide issues around international trade of endangered species. The taxidermied polar bear hide in Figure 1 was created from a hide seized during that investigation. It is now displayed in James Richardson International Airport in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with a plaque that informs visitors about endangered species in Canada, CITES and WAPPRIITA. Similar displays are found in other international airports across the country.

Taxidermied polar bear on top of a white platform resembling ice.

Figure 1: Polar bear mounted in the Winnipeg Airport – Photograph submitted by Richard Smith.

A display of a taxidermied polar bear mother and cub embracing in a den.
Figure 2: Life-sized polar bear maternity den display at Parks Canada Visitor Centre in Churchill, Manitoba. Churchill is well known as the Polar Bear Capital of the world. Photograph submitted by Audrey Boitson.

The northeast portion of Manitoba that sits along Hudson Bay is home to Wapusk National Park, which protects one of the largest polar bear maternity denning areas in the world. Polar bear harvest and trade is an important cultural and economic activity in the North. Conserving a legal and sustainable trade is an important issue for Inuit and the Government of Canada. The Canadian Wildlife Service along with Enforcement Branch works with Indigenous organizations to ensure trade is legal and well managed.

Every day, our officers work with CBSA and other government agencies to protect our natural heritage from over-exploitation. To learn more about how we apply environmental and wildlife protection laws, visit the Environmental and Wildlife Enforcement website.

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