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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Far Northern Seal Hunters Called Endangered Species

Governors from the frozen north are urging President Boris Yeltsin to veto a recently passed animal rights bill because it would make seal hunting illegal, thus throwing over a thousand of their constituents out of work and making the icy temperatures harder to bear.

The heads of both the Murmansk and Arkhangelsk regions have said that traders from these areas depend on seal hunting for survival, a spokesman for the Arkhangelsk administration confirmed Monday.

On Dec. 1, the State Duma, voting 273 to 1, passed a 22-page bill on cruelty to animals forbidding a wide range of activities - including seal hunting for furs - and requiring pet owners to have their cats and dogs neutered.

The bill was passed by the Federation Council last week, and must be signed by the president before becoming law.

"More than a thousand people who hunt and skin seals will lose their jobs in the villages in the Arkhangelsk region," Svetlana Gorlanova, an aide to Arkhangelsk Governor Anatoly Yefremov, said recently in remarks reported by Itar-Tass.

Murmansk is located on the Kola Gulf of the Barents Sea, and the coasts of Arkhangelsk are washed by the cold waters of three Arctic seas: the White Sea, the Barents Sea and the Kara Sea. Many residents of both these northern areas survive on the fur trade, which includes seal hunting.

The bill would also effect hunters of the mysterious Nerpa seal of Lake Baikal in the southern part of Eastern Siberia.

One of the world's smallest seals, the rare Nerpa can fetch trappers very high prices. Since 1992, the Nerpa population has dropped markedly, according to Earth Island environmental group. With the government allowing hunters to take between 5,000 and 6,000 Nerpas per year, the species is in danger of extinction, according to the environmentalists.

In polar regions such as Murmansk and Arkhangelsk - where temperatures regularly drop below minus 30 degrees Celsius in winter - the bill raises another problem. Fur is often the only option for fighting the bitter cold and imported winter garments are not always available to people in these regions. And if they are, few can afford them.

In a recent report, U.S.-based animal rights activist, Julianna Peresvetova said that worsening economic conditions are to blame for Russia's increasing poaching problems and negligent wildlife protection.

"Privatization has created 72,000 profit-driven trappers ... and remote communities in the Far East depend on trapping for as much as 60 percent of their income," Peresvetova's report says.

Russia is emerging as one of the three largest fur-consuming countries in the world, along with South Korea and China.