A host of celebrities have joined with Humane Society International/UK in writing an open letter to DEFRA Minister Richard Benyon urging him to be a champion for the polar bear by supporting a proposed ban on international trade in polar bears and their parts.

HSI’s “I’m There For The Polar Bear” campaign aims to end the killing of hundreds of polar bears whose parts are traded every year on the global market as rugs, trophies and ornaments.

In the letter, also signed by HSI UK’s Executive Director Mark Jones, the signatories call on Benyon to support a United States proposal to increase protection for polar bears at an upcoming meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Thailand in March. At the last CITES meeting in 2010, the UK and EU voted against increased protection. The letter urges Benyon this time “to do everything you can to actively support this proposal at EU-level discussions and to encourage your EU counterparts to do likewise.”

International commercial trade is a major threat to polar bear survival, second only to loss of habitat from climate change. Canada is the only country in the world that still permits international trade in these animals, hundreds of whom are hunted for the global market every year. The U.S. – which over the last decade has been the world’s largest importer of polar bear parts — has proposed awarding maximum Appendix I protection for polar bears under CITES. European countries such as Denmark, Norway, Germany and the UK also import. Some 568 polar bear parts were legally imported into the UK in the last decade.

“Increasing CITES protection for threatened polar bears will afford these animals vital respite as they struggle with the impacts of climate change,” says HSI UK’s Mark Jones. “Tackling climate change is crucial, but the benefits won’t come fast enough for these bears. They need action now to stop hundreds of them being needlessly killed for profit. The UK’s vote is key, so we’re asking Richard Benyon to be a champion for the polar bear and give them the protection they so desperately need.”

Celebrities issued the following statements:

Naturalist Chris Packham: “I have had the fabulous privilege of seeing the enigmatic polar bear in the wild, an experience that future generations may never get the chance to share if we human beings don’t stop pushing this threatened species to the limit. Tackling climate change and preserving their habitat is vital but will take time to reap results. But we can stop killing them for trade immediately, and we must take action now!”

Adventurer Bear Grylls: "Please help me on a mission to save the incredible polar bears of the world. True survivors but under total threat. Join me in saying “I’m There for the Polar Bear!”

Actor Joseph Fiennes: “Polar bears are having a hard enough time surviving the challenges of climate change. Surely we humans can give them a break by ending the commercial hunting of these magnificent creatures. A world without polar bears would be very bleak indeed, so I for one proudly stand with Humane Society International and declare I’m There For The Polar Bear!”

Actor Martin Clunes: “It would be a tragedy to allow the magnificent polar bear to melt away into extinction because we failed to act. I find it incredible that whilst struggling to survive climate change and pollution destroying their habitat, these threatened creatures also have to contend with humans shooting them to turn them into trophies and trinkets. If we don’t stop this international commercial trade in polar bears, trophies and trinkets may indeed be all we have left of these wonderful animals of the ice.”

Actor Brian Blessed: “Polar bears are such awesome creatures, we must do everything we can to protect them. They face such an uncertain future with immense threats from oil exploration and climate change, and we are only making their survival harder by allowing them to be killed and sold around the world. The polar bear is in great danger of becoming extinct. We must save them, before they are gone forever.”

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