The Great Spirit Bear
The Kermode Bear or "Spirit Bear"
spirit bear is a unique subspecies of
the North American black bear in which
approximately one in every 10 bears is
white or cream-colored. Some have orange
or yellow coloration on their backs.
Other Kermodes are all black. The
scientific name is Ursus americanus
kermodei, named after a naturalist
and museum curator named Frances Kermode
of the British Columbia Provincial
Museum. The term "Spirit Bear" is
possibly attributed to First Nations
tradition, which held that the white
bears were to be revered and protected.
Today the Tsimshian people call it "moskgm'ol,"
which simply means "white bear."
Kermode bears may have evolved on the
coast in the last 10,000 years from
black bear stock that became isolated
from interior black bears more than
300,000 years ago.
The white color may be due to
inheritance of a single gene for hair
color, but other more complex mechanisms
may be involved. Further genetic
research is needed.
Where Spirit Bears
The spirit bear is a
unique creature. It lives only on the
Pacific coast of British Columbia, in
Canada. The spirit bear is what
scientists call an "umbrella species,"
that is, if a large enough suitable
habitat can be protected for the spirit
bear, many other species sharing the
same ecosystem will also be protected
under this umbrella; for example,
salmon, birds, wolves, deer, grizzly
bears, insects and many others.
Rarely, a white bear is reported from
other black bear populations elsewhere
in North America but these are from
Much of the spirit
bear's historic territory is already
logged, from River's Inlet at the south
end of its range, to the Nass Valley in
the north, and east up the Skeena River
as far as Hazelton. On the mid-coast,
large areas of the islands where the
Kermode bears live – Princess Royal,
Gribbell, Roderick and Pooley – have
already been logged. The spirit bear's
traditional home is already much
diminished. The logging industry has
extracted substantial commercial value
from the range of the spirit bear even
as the provincial government planning
process was proceeding!
Do Spirit Bears Survive in the
Spirit bears thrive
in their lush rainforest home on a diet
of green plants, berries and salmon. In
the winter, they hibernate in dry
cavities inside giant old trees,
protected from howling winter storms.
The hibernating bear slowly digests its
stored body fat. One amazing thing about
spirit bears (and grizzly bears) is that
their young are often born in the middle
of winter, while the mother bear is
still in hibernation. The tiny bear
cubs, born blind and defenseless, stay
in the den until spring, when the mother
wakes and takes them on their first
foray into the larger world of the
Here are some links
to other spirit bear sites:
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