Silence of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group on the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment

It’s been six months and still the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group has not updated its website with a link to the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment for polar bears, which was made public with some fanfare in November 2015. They are not the only group still ignoring the Red List decision but their silence is the most damning – the IUCN is the parent body of their organization.

On May 7th, I wrote to the IUCN Red List folks (redlist@iucn.org) about this situation (excerpt below) but as yet have received no reply.

PBSG website banner May 10 2016

In part, my letter to the Red List said:

“The IUCN PBSG website is one of the first places people are directed to when they look online for official information about the conservation status of polar bears. Yet by early May 2016, no mention is found of the November 2015 Red List assessment of polar bears on the PBSG website (http://pbsg.npolar.no/en/ ).

To put this information time lag into perspective, note that the news item that now sits at the top of the prominently sited PBSG “NEWS” list on their website’s home page (“Polar bears and terrestrial food”) refers to a paper published on 1 April 2015 – the PBSG had it listed just 16 days later.

Yet, between the 18 of November 2015 and 14 January 2016, the PBSG found no time to post as “News” a simple link to the updated IUCN Red List polar bear assessment report which their members wrote! When I drew attention to this odd fact, instead of adding a simple link to the IUCN Red List assessment for polar bears to rectify the situation, they added this excuse:

“A NEW PBSG WEBSITE IS UNDER CONSTRUCTION, AND WILL BE PUBLISHED SPRING 2016.

THIS WORK HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR A FEW MONTHS AND CONSEQUENTLY SOME OF THE CONTENT HAVEN’T BEEN UPDATED FOR A WHILE.

PLEASE BE PATIENT UNTIL THE NEW SITE IS PUBLISHED.”

But here it is, almost 4 months later – “spring” in most places by anyone’s definition – and that excuse still sits on the PBSG home page with no link to the Red List assessment.

In what universe does it take more than 6 months to revamp a website – or even build one from scratch (presuming that the upgrade was underway in November 2015, explaining why there was no mention of the Red List assessment published that month)?

If an excuse could be added in January 2016 to the home page, why not a link to the most critical piece of new information about polar bears as well?

Why is the PBSG trying to pretend the Red List assessment doesn’t exist? And why is the IUCN not calling them to task for it?”

Others silent on the IUCN Red List update

I have written several times to the online Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) to ask that their webpage for polar bears (and the summary they provide to Google) be updated to remove the statement that the population trend for polar bears is declining.

I wrote them again a few days ago when I noticed on 11 May 2016 (see below) that the EOL summary still proclaims that polar bear numbers are going down. I have not yet heard back to this most recent inquiry but all previous responses were excuses that such changes take a lot of time. More than six months, apparently.

Google search_polar bear red list_11 May 2016

Meanwhile, as of 11 May 2016 (when I last checked), I saw that sometime over the last few months WWF Canada has updated the population numbers given on the home page devoted to polar bears. Kudos to them for that (see below):

WWF Canada_polar bear at 14 May 2016

[Note: “22,000-31,000” is indeed correct. The online Red List webpage entry says:

Summing across the most recent estimates for the 19 subpopulations (Table 3 in the Supplementary Material) results in a total of approximately 26,000 Polar Bears ( 95% CI = 22,000-31,000 ).

My typo in past posts (“20,000-31,000”) has been corrected, including my original post title and link here.]

However, the WWF down-loadable “Fact sheet” has not been updated and ironically, the only authority that the WWF link to on their polar bear page is the IUCN PBSG (see screen cap below) – which, as I said, is pointedly ignoring the 2015 Red List assessment.

WWF link to IUCN PBSG_not Red List_May 14 2016 w logo

Nowhere on the WWF Canada site does it provide a link to the IUCN Red List assessment. [WWF international page shares these features – the same updated population estimate but no link to the Red List or mention of its existence. It does mentions the PBSG but doesn’t provide a link]

My Google search also generated a prominent 1st page box of aggregated links to questions “people also ask”:

Google search for polar bear_what people also ask_15 May 2016

It appears the LiveScience entry referred to above has not been updated since it was posted in late November 2014 (back up pdf here) but that’s not entirely true: it does provide a link to the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment (screencap below – which may have been auto-updated from the original link) but states information from the 2006 assessment instead:

LiveScience_Polar Bear Facts IUCN update_at 15 May 2016

[The 2015 Red List assessment does say polar bears are ‘Vulnerable’ but states the trend of their population is ‘Unknown’ – it also limits its predictions to the next 3 polar bear generations (35 years), to 2050 – and says the current population estimate is 22,000-31,000 (26,000)]

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