In Canada’s Northwest Territories (not far from Alaska) an Inuit hunter shot and killed a strange-looking polar bear. After an examination by scientists, it was confirmed the bear was part polar and part grizzly. The bear had the trademark thick white fur of a polar bear, but it also had brown paws, brown legs and a wide head.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources for the North West Territories remarked, “…it may be the first recorded second-generation polar-grizzly bear hybrid found in the wild.”
It’s quite sad the discovery had to come as a result of the bear’s death. A similar hybrid bear was also discovered after being shot in 2006. DNA tests are being conducted to determine if the two ‘grolar’ bears are genetically related.
Climate change is thought to be the cause of polar bears moving into traditional grizzly territory. There is less sea ice, and so more land is exposed to polar bears, which brings them into closer contact with the grizzlies.
Rather than being a few isolated incidents, hybrids could become more common as habitat changes bring more species together. One biologist predicts hybridization may not be limited to bears in the area. “That’s going to give a lot of organisms – a lot of marine mammals in particular - who’ve been separated for at least 10,000 years the opportunity to interbreed again, and we’re predicting we’re going to see a lot more of that.”
The NorthWest Territories Environment Departments estimates there are about 3,000 wild polar bears living in the arctic coastal areas. They estimate the grizzly population there to be of a somewhat larger size. A population of grizzlies also live in the arctic coastal areas.
Image Credit: Canadian Wildlife Service
(Note the bear pictured above is the grolar bear from 2006.)