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U.S.-Russia relations thaw enough to work to aid polar bears

  • Article by: DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
  • New York Times
  • March 3, 2013 - 8:37 PM

 

– With relations between Russia and the United States increasingly frosty because of entrenched disagreements over Syria, child adoptions, missile systems and other issues, the two countries have quietly joined forces to help polar bears.

Russia and the United States, two of the five countries where polar bears live, are now the main allies pushing for greater protection for the bears under a global treaty on endangered species, which is being reviewed this week at a conference in Bangkok.

Russia’s decision to cooperate with the United States reverses Moscow’s opposition to a similar U.S. proposal at the endangered species conference three years ago. The impetus for this shift may be the increasing danger to polar bears and the return to the presidency of Vladimir V. Putin, who often expresses his personal affection for wildlife and has declared 2013 to be the “Year of the Environment” in Russia.

Scientists and wildlife conservation groups say the world’s polar bear population, estimated at 20,000 to 25,000, is in grave peril because of climate change, which is depleting ice levels, and increased hunting and trade in skins and parts.

The U.S.-Russian proposal would grant polar bears the highest level of protection under the treaty, called the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, by banning international commercial trade in skins, furs and other items made from bears. And it is one of the most contentious issues at this week’s conference. Two other countries — Canada and Denmark, representing Greenland — oppose such a ban.

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