Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Spirit of Northern British Columbia

Ursus Americanus Kermodei

As always, click the pictures to enlarge. These photos were taken 65 kilometres north of Highway 16 on Highway 37, near Kitwanga. My dad passed them along to me a couple of days ago. The Kermode, or Spirit, bear is thought to be a genetic variant of the black bear. Though their exact numbers are unknown, it is estimated that there are as many as 1200 of them roaming north central British Columbia.

White coat Kermode bears are found most frequently on Gribbell Island and Princess Royal Island, situated between the coastal mainland and the Queen Charlotte Islands. Scientists believe there is such a high concentration of the white coat Kermode bears on these islands because they are geographically isolated from other black bear populations.

Although I'm about the most pro-industry and anti-hippy person you'll find, I must admit to being pleased about the steps taken by the provincial government to protect the Spirit Bear. Although the bears were not the main reason behind the desire to create this preserve, it is a definite benefit of the agreement. From the National Geographic article:

Spirit bears, also called Kermode bears, are not albinos. They are rare genetic variants of the black bear (see photo), with black skin underneath white fur. Only a few hundred of the white bears are known to exist.

"Last year I saw seven white cubs on one river—all of them had black mothers," said Marvin Robinson, a spirit-bear guide of the Git-ga'at First Nation tribe.

Fascinating stuff. And to think, they live in what is essentially my back yard.