An unusual bear was taken by a Canadian hunter last week. It wasn't a grizzly and it wasn't a polar bear. It was a grolar bear, a polar/grizzly hybrid.
Last week hunter Didji Ishalook, 25, shot an unusual bear from his home in Arviat, Nunavut, Canada. The bear was a polar bear/grizzly bear hybrid. A grolar bear, so to speak.
Ishalook spotted the animal on top of a hill near his home and at first was unsure of what it was. He initially thought that perhaps it was an arctic fox or a small polar bear. Its body shape was that of a grizzly, but its white coloration said polar bear.
"It turned out to be a grizzly half-breed," Ishalook said. "It looks like a polar bear but...it's got brown paws and big claws like a grizzly. And the shape of a grizzly head."
Dave Garshelis, a research scientist from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and one of the world's foremost bear experts, agrees. He says that the bear is a grizzly/polar bear hybrid, and not an albino grizzly bear.
"An albino bear would have a light-colored or pink-colored nose, and no pigmentation in the eyes and the claws," said Garshelis. "This bear has a black nose, and normal dark-colored eyes and claws. So, it's not an albino."
Garshelis believes that climate change has something to do with the interbreeding, as, according to him, grizzly bears are being pushed further north and are thus interbreeding with polar bears. But that seems a weak hypothesis. One, there is little evidence that grizzlies are moving north due to climate change, and two, only two other sightings of grolar bears have been reported in the last decade. One in 2006, one in 2010. So the hybridization is not becoming more common.
Chances are that this bear is simply a fluke, one that occasionally occurs where polar bear and grizzly bear habitat overlaps.
Research scientist and polar bear expert with the Canadian Wildlife Service, Ian Stirling, said in an interview that the hybrid shot in 2006 was "definitely not" a sign of climate change. Also, the Canadian Wildlife Service reports that grizzlies have been documented going out on the ice in the spring to feed on seals killed by polar bears. And the two species do vie over whale carcasses at communal sites, with the smaller grizzlies being recorded as having dominance over the larger polar bears.
Ishalook plans to keep the hide of the bear and display it in his home. "I am going to send it out to taxidermist and make it into a rug or a wall mount," he said.
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