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The Rare, Elusive Spirit Bears Of British Columbia

A rare kermode, or spirit bear. (From Great Bear Rainforest, Courtesy MacGillivray Freeman Films)
A rare kermode, or spirit bear. (From Great Bear Rainforest, Courtesy MacGillivray Freeman Films)

Kermode bears, also known as spirit bears, are incredibly elusive. They live only in one section of British Columbia’s central coast, and a new study indicates the gene that turns their fur white is even rarer than previously thought. We’ll talk to two researchers from the study about the quest to protect and preserve the Great Bear Rainforest.


Doug Neasloss, director of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation Stewardship Authority. Former chief councilor of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation. ( @DNeasloss)

Christina Service, science coordinator and wildlife biologist for Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation Stewardship Authority. ( @CN_Service)

Photo Highlights

From The Reading List

Trailer for the film “Great Bear Rainforest: Land of the Spirit Bear.,” from MacGillivray Freeman Films.

Watch on YouTube.

S mithsonian: This Rare, White Bear May Be the Key to Saving a Canadian Rainforest” — “Very quietly we paddle to shore in a raft from the research vessel, which has stopped at the mouth of a small river cascading into the Pacific, one of more than a hundred salmon-bearing rivers in the 1,500-square-mile territory of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais people. We’re halfway up the coast of British Columbia, in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest, in one of the largest unspoiled temperate rainforests on earth. We climb out and sit on boulders in the intertidal zone, in front of a meadow. Behind it is primeval forest, a solid wall of trees — western red cedar, Sitka spruce, alder, hemlock, Douglas fir.”

National Geographic: “ First Nations Fight to Protect the Rare Spirit Bear from Hunters” — “There are stories about the white bears that hide in the deep forest of British Columbia’s coast. Old stories, handed down from one generation to the next for thousands of years, since the last Ice Age gripped the world, and glaciers licked the edge of the rain forest. One tale, told by the Kitasoo/Xai’Xais Nation, says that as the sheets of ice began to retreat, Raven—the creator of all things—made the animal known as the spirit bear to remind him of the ice and snow. It’s a story that speaks not only to First Nations’ connection with wildlife but also to their deep roots in the Great Bear Rainforest, an area the size of Switzerland that’s home to some 20,000 First Nations people.”

The New York Times: Hair From Ghostly Bears Reveals New Genetic Secrets” — “Douglas Neasloss was skeptical that Spirit bears existed. A member of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation in Canada, he had heard the stories of white-furred bears that roamed British Columbia’s rainforest. But Mr. Neasloss, a former tour leader and cultural interpreter, had never seen one until 2005, when he experienced “one of the most magical moments” of his guiding career. During a hike, he caught sight of a cinnamon-tinged white bear as it walked out ahead of him, then lay down 50 feet away to munch on a freshly caught salmon.”

Terrace Standard: “ Terrace conservation officers relocate Spirit bear” — “Terrace conservation officers relocated a Spirit bear far into the wilderness to keep it away from human residential areas. The bear got into a freezer situated outside a cabin in Rosswood, said Tracy Walbauer of the Terrace Conservation Officer Service. ‘I’m not sure if he actually fed on anything in the freezer, but there was fish in the freezer and then we intervened immediately,’ he said. Conservation officers moved the bear about 50 km further into the wilderness.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.