The new hybrids were first identified in 2006, when an Idaho hunter, Jim Martell, was on a hunting expedition with an Inuit guide, Roger Kuptana. The white-furred bear he shot had characteristics not seen in polar bears: long claws, a humped shoulder, brown eye patches and an unusual snout. DNA testing proved it to be a hybrid.
Others have spotted hybrids since then. In appearance they fall somewhere between grizzlies and polar bears. Their behavior tends to be more akin to polar bears, relying on a more carnivorous diet than grizzlies.
At the moment the hybrids are rare and not a threat to the continuation of either species. What threatens both is loss of habitat. Dr. Steven C. Amstrup, chief scientist at Polar Bears International, says:
Polar bears are likely to starve out of their present ranges long before their genes are swamped by those of grizzly bears. If some polar bear genes persist in grizzly bears, after polar bears have disappeared from their current sea ice home, that fact will be irrelevant with regard to efforts to retain the magnificent and highly specialized life form we now know as the polar bear.
Whether we call the hybrids pozzles, grizzpos or Arctic bears, they are a reminder that human tampering with the planet carries threats whose consequences scientists have been predicting for decades. Dr. Armstrup makes this observation:
Discussions of hybridization aside, it is important to remember that by the time we allow the world to warm enough that the polar bears’sea ice habitat disappears, challenges to humans will be so great that no one will be thinking about polar bear conservation.
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