Tourists on a rafting trip in eastern Russia recently encountered a mother brown bear with two cubs, but what made the sighting extraordinary was that one of the cubs was pure white (not albino).
The bears were foraging on the bank of the Bustraya River, on the Kamchatka Peninsula, when the tourists drifted past the animals.
The Siberian Times floated the possibility of eventual mating between brown bears and polar bears on the Kamchatka, citing the fact that polar bears have been documented. albeit rarely, on the peninsula.
But these were clearly brown bears, curiously watching the astonished rafters.
Alexander Nikanorov, senior research fellow at the Kronotsky Nature Reserve, told the Siberian Times that during 40 years of research in the region, this was the first time he had seen evidence of a white brown bear that was not albino.
Had the cub been albino, Nikanorov explained, it would have a pink nose and pink eyes. The researcher believes that in this case, the white color was caused by a rare mutation. "On Kamchatka we have in the past spotted brown bears of unusual colors – pale fawn, ginger, and light brown," Nikanorov added.
Kamchatka brown bears, also called Far Eastern brown bears, are a large brown bear subspecies native to certain regions on the Kamchatka peninsula. They feed largely on berries, nuts, salmon, and steelhead, but will also dig for roots.
They're fairly abundant on the peninsula – population estimates range from 10,000 to about 12,000 – but their habitat is threatened by human encroachment, mining activities, and mineral exploration.
As for the white cub, it's about 3 years old and nearing the time when it will venture on its own.
It remains unclear whether being white will diminish the cub's chance of survival, although it has been accepted by its mother and sibling.
Another question is whether this unusual trait – if the white bear survives long enough to start a family – will be passed to its offspring.
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