A pilot project in Canada is working on inserting microchips in the hides of polar bears in efforts to curb wildlife trafficking. Officials in several Nunavut and Labrador communities started the utilizing the microchips earlier this year. With the technology, both buyers and wildlife enforcement officers can know exactly where the animal was hunted and whether it was legal.
"This is something that we're really excited about," said Sheldon Jordan, the director general of the wildlife enforcement division of Environment and Climate Change Canada, to CBC. "We've tried it in a number of communities across Northern Canada and it seems to be working quite well."
In addition to microchipping polar bears, back-up DNA samples will be taken from the wild animals so officials and merchants can determine if the bear is from a population that is allowed to be hunted. The data will also provide officials with data on where polar bears are hunted so they can modify policies and practices.
The importance of monitoring wildlife trafficking and hunting is further solidified in the growing demand. According to Jordan, wildlife trafficking has "exploded" due to an increase demand from East Asia. For instance, from 2009 to 2013, the going rate for polar bear pelts has quadrupled. "When the price goes up, there's an incentive for some people, especially middlemen, to try to go around the rules, to try to smuggle out polar bear skins, which are not allowed to be exported," said Jordan.
While Jordan notes that traffickers in Canada are rarely caught breaking the law, he also maintains it is essential for officials to be "ahead of the curve." "If they're not legally traded or legally exported, it doesn't matter if the harvest is legal or not," said Jordan. "People in the rest of the world are going to say that Canada can't be trusted."
Should the pilot project be successful, then the technology could be used in other parts of the world to help preserve endangered wildlife. The simple technology and inexpensive process means the project can be adapted around the globe.
"There are people in small communities in central Africa who are dependent on elephant for trade and for tourism," said Jordan. "Why not [try] what we've tried here in the North, in our small communities, let's try and see if we can transfer that to a little bit of the rest of the world to try and protect small communities elsewhere."