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US plan to aid polar bears rejected

BANGKOK — A proposal by the United States to ban cross-border trade in polar bears and their parts was defeated Thursday at an international meeting of conservationists, marking a victory for Canada’s indigenous Inuit people over their neighbor to the south.

Delegates at the triennial meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species rejected Washington’s proposal to change the status of the polar bear from a species whose trade is merely regulated, not banned.

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The proposal fell far short of the two-thirds needed to pass, garnering 38 votes in favor, 42 against, and 46 abstentions. A similar proposal was defeated three years ago at the last meeting of the convention.

While support for most of the meeting’s 70 proposals covering the trade in other species fell along predictable lines, the US proposal made for some odd bedfellows. Russia endorsed Washington’s proposal, which was also supported by a cluster of animal rights societies.

Canada was joined in opposition by some of the larger conservation organizations, including the CITES Secretariat and the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network, better known as TRAFFIC.

The worldwide population of polar bears is estimated to be 20,000-28,000, with about two-thirds in Canada.

The United States had contended that climate change was shrinking the bears’ habitat and that preemptive measures were needed to save them.

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