Rising global temperatures are threatening the polar bear’s ability to breed with its own kind.
A new type of animal has appeared in the Arctic, but scientists are far from excited. That’s because the grolar bear, the offspring of a polar and a grizzly bear, represents another way climate change has threatened the polar bear species.
The first cross between a polar and grizzly bear was documented in 2006. A second generation grolar bear was discovered in 2010, indicating the hybrids were reproducing in the wild.
The parents of grolar bears likely first met as grizzlies began to invade the polar bear’s warming habitat or as polar bears were driven southward by rising temperatures. Polar bears, already facing shrinking breeding options because of pollution and receding sea ice, may have settled for grizzlies as mating partners.
The few documented grolar bears have had white fur with some brown patches. Captive grolar bear cubs stomp and fling their toys in a similar manner to how polar bears kill prey, suggesting their behavior is more like their Arctic parents. Some scientists fear grolar bears could likely be more aggressive than grizzlies, but adaptable to warmer climates, which could pose a threat to humans.
Scientists also worry that as more grizzly and polar bear species interbreed, the genetic traits of both original species will start to disappear. Additionally, grolar bears might not carry the genetic traits to survive in the long-term, leading to their extinction alongside polar bears.
Currently, grolar bear hybrids are rare, as polar bears and grizzlies only interact in two places on earth and tend to generally avoid each other. Still, the potential impact of a growing grolar bear populace has scientists concerned.
After all, as fans of “Jurassic Park” can attest, life may find a way, but the results of human interference may be far from what we want or even expect.