Rare black bear cub with odd coloring might be a ‘spirit bear’

In 23 years of research in the mountains of southern British Columbia, bear expert Michael Allen had never seen anything like the rare black bear cub with the odd coloring spotted last week hanging out with its mother near the resort community of Whistler.

“I have seen cubs ranging [from] black, reddish-brown, chocolate-brown to blonde (after summer bleaching of coat) but never have seen in this population a cub with pelage this light to almost white,” Allen wrote in a bear-viewing report, according to CBC News.

Tour guide Kathy Jenkins first reported seeing the rare white or cream-colored cub with a known resident black bear on Monday and snapped some photos.

On Thursday, Arthur De Jong saw the adorable bear cub frolicking with its mother on Whistler-Blackcomb mountain. The environmental planning manager for the ski resort told CBC News such a bear cub had never been seen before in the ski area.

Biologists are trying to determine whether the whitish bear cub is an albino or a spirit bear, a subspecies of black bear known as a Kermode bear.

About one in 10 Kermode bears are white or cream colored like polar bears due to a double recessive gene unique to the subspecies, which live in the central and northern coastal regions of British Columbia.

Spirit bears are revered by the indigenous people of the region, incidentally.

Experts tend to believe the 5-month-old bear cub is albino because, unlike a Kermode bear, it doesn’t have a black nose or pigmentation. They hope to get photos of the cub’s eyes. If the eyes are pink-blue in color, it would confirm the bear cub is an albino.

Hopefully they get a chance to find out while its still alive. The bear cub faces a difficult road as only 50 percent of cubs survive the first year.

“The bears are going into mating season and that’s when the cubs are at a very high risk because the males potentially kill the cubs and that’ll force the mother to make some adjustments in their patterns of movement,” De Jong told CBC News.

Becoming habituated to humans would also diminish the bear cub’s chances.

“There is a bit of a threat to this bear,” Sgt. Simon Gravel of the Conservation Officer Service’s Squamish office told the Vancouver Sun. “It’s a special bear and will attract a lot of attention.

“The biggest threat to him is human curiosity.”

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