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  Weekly Feature: (February 19, 2006)


Spirit BearB.C.'s Spirit Bear
Helen's Weekly Feature



One of B.C.’s natural treasures is the Spirit Bear.  This rare bear lives on B.C.’s Pacific coast rainforest archipelago: on The Princess Royal Island and on the mainland around Bella Bella, which is near Prince Rupert. 

What is a Spirit bear, sometimes called “ghost” or “white” bear?  It is a Kermode bear, a Canadian subspecies of the North American black bear, and only about 10% of Kermode bears are white.  These white bears are not albinos.  They have white or cream-coloured coats, and some have orange or yellow colorations on their backs.

However, like the black bears, the white ones have dark footpads, nose and eyes.  The Kermode bear was named in 1928 after Frank Kermode, former director of the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria.  The term “Spirit Bear” is also possibly attributed to a First Nations' Tradition which held that the white bears were to be revered and protected.

Scientists speculate that a double-recessive gene for coat colour may be responsible, but admit that more research is required.

The Spirit Bear is what scientists call an “umbrella species.” That means that if a large enough suitable habitat can be protected for the spirit bear, many other species that rely on the same ecosystem will also be protected under this “umbrella.” 

The Spirit Bears thrive in their lush rainforest, bear-heaven among the cathedral groves of giant Sitka spruce.  Spirit bears are omnivores who enjoy berries, nuts, fruits, roots, grasses, insects, deer and moose fawns, carrion and spawning salmon. 

The hibernating female finds a cozy winter home in the hollow trunk of a giant Sitka where she will rest, gradually digest her stored body fat, and then deliver her tiny babies during the winter.

The helpless newborn bears weigh only about ½ a pound (227 gm), but grow up to weigh between 150-300 pounds (68 – 130 kg) and are able to run up to 55 km per hour.  The babies and mother bear stay warm and safe in their tree-trunk house until spring when the mother wakes up and takes her family out into the spring sunshine. 

The young bears stay with their mother for up to a year-and-a-half, learn survival tricks and then move on to live their normal 25-year life-span ranging the lush rainforest.  ‘

See pictures of the Spirit Bear and its inland temperate rainforest.

What appears to be an idyllic life is much endangered by some habits of the humans who share the province with them.  Logging practices have scarred the landscape and damaged their environment. 

On Feb. 7, 2006, B.C.’s government unveiled an agreement to preserve 1.8 million hectares of land along B.C.’s Central and North Coast, including the Great Bear Rainforest, one of the largest intact temperate rainforests in the world (6.4 million hectares).  This agreement involves: government, the forest industry, First Nations, and environmentalists.

Logging practices will be changed to protect old-growth forests, limit logging, protect the home of the Kermode or “Spirit” bear, and provide a land-use plan to include eco-tourism.

Sources: Valhalla Wilderness Society

The Spirit Bear is to become B.C.’s Provincial Animal Symbol along with the Dogwood, the Steller’s Jay, and the Western Red Cedar, and the Jade gem stone.

Hopefully, this amazing part of our beautiful B.C. coast will be saved for all to appreciate now and for generations to come.

Campaign to Save the Great Bear Rainforest

Try a Vocabulary Quiz on the feature: Spirit Bear Vocabulary Quiz

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