Page last updated at 07:22 GMT, Saturday, 26 April 2008 08:22 UK

Polar bears 'at risk' in Canada

By Lee Carter
BBC News, Toronto

A polar bear mother and her two cubs in Wapusk National Park on the shore of Hudson Bay, Canada, 6 November 2007
Canada's polar bears are at risk from hunting and melting ice in the Arctic

Polar bears in Canada are at risk from climate change but not threatened with extinction, a panel of experts has advised the Canadian government.

The government should develop a plan to protect the country's estimated 15,000 polar bears, the panel said.

The plight of the polar bear has long concerned environmentalists.

The animals face loss of habitat on two fronts, the panel said - hunting, and melting ice in the Arctic, which is widely blamed on climate change.

While recognising both problems, the panel found that Canada's polar bear population was not declining enough to place it in the most serious category as an endangered species.

Instead, it has been classified as a species of special concern.

'At risk'

"Based on the best available information at hand, there was insufficient reason to think that the polar bear was at imminent risk of extinction," said Jeff Hutchings, the panel's chairman.

"That's not to say that it's not in trouble. A special concern species is a species at risk in Canada and requires legislative action."

Canada's environment minister, John Baird, is obliged to accept the government-commissioned report's findings and address threats to the animal's survival, including climate change.

But a management plan for Canada's polar bears will not be required until 2014 - by which time some scientists believe the summer sea ice in the Arctic may have completely disappeared.

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