The bloody business of the trophy hunters

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The Independent Online

Rich "sportsmen" are paying up to $35,000 (£17,000) per trip to hunt down and kill polar bears, which are then stuffed and mounted for display.

An IoS investigation has identified 10 companies offering polar bear hunting trips. On many of their websites are images of bloody bear carcasses, besides which a grinning hunter poses with gun or crossbow.

Some animals appear to have several wounds, indicating that their deaths were less the climax to a sport and more a slow execution on ice. Experts estimate that around 1,000 of the world's 22,000-25,000 remaining polar bears are killed each year.

About 150 of these are shot by hunters in Canada, 200 by poachers in Russia, and the remainder by native peoples in Canada, the US and Greenland.

And the number of officially sanctioned kills is increasing. Two years ago, Canada upped its quota for hunting by 28 per cent to 518, Greenland (in an attempt to stem the 250 or so unofficial kills) laid down an annual quota, and Russia, where poaching is a major problem, is about to lift its ban on hunting for the first time in 50 years.

In Canada, each Inuit community decides how many polar bear "tags" it will retain, and how many it will sell to trophy hunters. Hunting trip firms then sell these "tags", plus travel and accommodation, as part of a package deal. Alaska Hunting Safaris, for example, invites hunters to "Join us on the adventure of a lifetime for the thrill of chasing the Arctic's greatest trophy animal, the polar bear!"

Demand is strong. Alaska-based Adventures in the Wild has already sold out its polar bear hunting trips for next year and reports that polar bear tags are selling out within days of becoming available.

Once in the Arctic, the clients travel by dog sled accompanied by local guides. On sighting a bear, the dogs chase down the bears until, exhausted and trapped, they can be shot at by the tourists.

Companies assure clients that local back-up is on hand to help "finish the job". In a Safari Club International newsletter, one hunter, who went with Pokiak Guiding and Outfitting in Canada, describes the killing of a 10ft bear: "I squeezed off my .416 [gun]. I heard the immediate WHACK – but he didn't go down! The bear lunged toward the open water... I continued to shoot, and I could hear the rounds hitting, but this grand old bear would not go quietly.

"All of a sudden, he crashed through the ice and finally succumbed in a pond-sized area of slushy ice water... I watched from the hard ice as James and Jacob went to work to recover my prized trophy... An exhilarating moment!"

Polar bear trophies are also in demand from collectors. Rugs can sell for $10,000 (£5,000) apiece, with illegal kills in Russia believed to be the main source. But skins are available in Canada, too.

An IoS reporter was offered one by "We have one polar bear rug which has just been completed from our production line. We have not yet posted this polar bear on our web site. He measures 7ft 6ins from nose to tail. Price is $12,000 (£6,000), plus shipping."

Canadians say polar bear hunting is properly managed to ensure the viability of bear populations, and Inuit representatives say that the income from sports hunting is vital for the survival of their communities.

Further reading: 'The Revenge of Gaia', by James Lovelock, Basic Books (£16.99)

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