In addition to exportation data, the CITES trade database includes polar bear skin import statistics. The accuracy of these data depends completely on the accuracy of the reporting countries, which are not always precise. However, many destination countries do not register every import, making the comparison between CITES import and export data confusing and inaccurate. The polar bear skin import statistics presented below are derived from the quantity of skins the exporter reported as having been shipped to destination countries, rather than the number of skins the CITES database has registered as imported.

Copyright: Polar Bears & Humans project / Ole J LioddenTotal international polar bear skin export statistics for the five largest importing countries, based on CITES export data from 1976-2015.

Polar bear skin imports 1975–2015
Japan, Denmark, China, Norway and the US were the five largest polar bear skin importers from 1976–2015, as illustrated in the figure above. These countries were the destinations for 10,762 skins, representing 71.6% of the international market. Greenland, with 196 imported skins, and Canada, with 78 skins, are not included because all but one of those skins were re-imports that had originated from the countries’ own shores.

The fur buyers in Japan had an insatiable appetite for luxury polar bear skins in the fourth quarter of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st. From 1976–2005 Japan imported 4,470 polar bear skins. Those skins accounted for 39.4% of the world market during that time. As the figure above illustrates, Japan received only 20 skins in 2000 and no skins at all from 2008–13. The Japanese skin import died out, and was taken over by Chinese polar bears skin buyers.

Polar bear skin imports 2011–2015
China has been the main importing country for polar bear skins, with 1.175 skins representing 70,5% of the market from 2011–2015. In the same period Norway has been the second largest polar bear skin importer with 5,8% of the market, according to the CITES trade base. Norway banned all polar bear hunting in Svalbard from 1973, but is still one of the leading countries in international polar bear skin trade.

The next importing countries on the “top 15” list are: Belgium (3,9%), France (3,3%), Russia (3,0%), Germany (2,8%), Switzerland (1,4%), Austria (0,8%), Spain (0,7%), Australia, Denmark, Korea and Sweden (0,5%), and Lithuania and South Africa (0,4%), as summarized in the table. Except the main market in China, most importing countries of polar bear skins in recent years are located in Europe.

Copyright: Polar Bears & Humans project / Ole J Liodden

Learn more about polar bears
The information on this webpage is from Chapter 6.3 in the Polar Bears & Humans book. If you want to learn more about polar bears and conservation, order a copy of the book, and support the Polar Bears & Humans project.