Thursday, 13 October 2011

Kermode Bear (AKA Spirit Bear or Ursus Americanus Kermodei)

This is a white black bear; it is not a white bear, polar bear, albino bear or blond bear. This is a black bear with a recessive gene that causes it to have pale white fur, giving it a ghost-like appearance, hence its nickname Spirit Bear. Scientists know what causes the black bear to be born white just not why. The gene that causes the bear to be born white is called Kermodism and that is why it is named the kermode bear. It is estimated that there is a one in ten chance of a black bear being born white.

The spirit bear has the same physical appearance as the black bear, standing about 160cm (6ft) tall with males weighing in at 225Kg (500lb) and females weighing about 135kg (300lb). The spirit bear does have an advantage in fishing over the black bear as the fish have a hard time seeing the spirit bear so that gives them about 30% better chance of catching fish. At night the fish cannot see any difference in either bear so the advantage is gone.

National Geographic estimates that there are about 100-400 spirit bears in the wild ranging from Alaska to Vancouver Island. The spirit bear can thank the natives of their area for its survival from the fur trade. The Natives of British Columbia and Alaska believed the spirit bear to be sacred so they did not hunt them nor told the fur trappers about them.

There are many traditions and stories that surround the spirit bear. One of the stories starts ten thousand years ago and the world was frozen, covered with glaciers and snow. Raven descended from the heavens and created the green, he created man (they popped out of seed pods) and even after making everything he was not satisfied. Raven chose Black Bear, the keeper of dreams and memories to help him out. He did not have far to go as the Black Bear was always seen as a constellation of the stars in the night sky. Raven made a pact with Black Bear where Black Bear will live in peace for all time and every one of ten children of Black Bear will be turn white as a reminder for Raven of the misery of the great ice age before. These white bears to this day are still called Moksgm’ol (meaning white bear) by the Kitasoo and T’simshian people.

The traditions and respect people used to hold for the black bear and the spirit bear are still held to this day by native and non-native people. The stories are still passed down and ceremonies are still held to honour this unlikely but majestic creature.

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