kermode bears

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Spirit Bears

The Kermode bear (Ursus americanus kermodei), also known as the “spirit bear” (particularly in British Columbia), is a rare subspecies of the American black bear living in the Central and North Coast regions of British Columbia, Canada. It is noted for about one-tenth of its population having white or cream-colored coats like polar bears. This color is due to a double recessive gene unique in the subspecies. They are not albinos and not any more related to polar bears or the “blonde” brown bears of Alaska’s “ABC Islands” than other members of their species.

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Spirit Bear (Kermode Bear) hunting salmon in Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest

Kermode “Spirit” Bear by Paul Burwell

Kermode “Spirit” Bear walking along a log over a river in the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, Canada. These bears are not albinos. Rather, they are a black bear that carries a resesive gene that causes about 1 in 10 bears to be born with white instead of black fur. They only live on the west coast of Canada and there are only about 500 of them in existence.

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Spirit Bear Going for the Salmon by Ross Konigsburg
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Spirit bear catching a salmon

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Kermode Bear Stare by Brandon Broderick
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A young Kermode Bear (also known as a Spirit Bear) taking a break from flipping over rocks to check out what I was up to.

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Spirit Bear, Gribbell Island, BC by Jon McCormack
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British Columbia’s Gitga’at First Nation believe that the raven, creator of the rainforest, turned every 10th black bear white as a reminder of the last ice age. Geneticists understand that the white coat is the result of a double recessive gene in black bears. No one knows why the spirit bear (known locally as Moksgm’ol) only exists in a small part of Canada’s Great Bear Rain Forest. It’s just one of nature’s miracles. Estimates of how many spirit bears exist vary. Some scientists believe there may be as many as 400. Some believe there may be as few as 200. This makes them more rare than a giant panda – and harder to find. My journey to find a spirit bear involved two plane flights, a ferry ride, a float plane ride, two zodiac trips, multiple nights on a boat, and a long hike through a rain forest. I’d willingly travel twice as far to get another glimpse of these majestic animals. Photographing this bear was, by far, the most profound thing I’ve done with my camera.

Photograph by @paulnicklen taken while #onassignment for @natgeo. A rare encounter with a Kermode Bear (aka Spirit Bear) in the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia, BC. Please stay tuned for more and #follow me on @paulnicklen to see more images from this experience with a friendly bear that I will never forget. #beauty #nature #keepexploring #letsexplore #love #instagood #photooftheday #picoftheday by natgeo