Elusive white black bear – known by Native Americans as a ‘spirit bear’ – seen frolicking on Michigan trail camera
- The 100-pound bear was spotted in the western Upper Peninsula, a region of The Great Lake State where bears are in abundance
- That said, the bear’s appearance was the only common thing about the sighting
- Distinct from polar bears or albinos, black bears with white fur occur when both the bear’s parents bred and produced a recessive gene for white fur
- Spotting one of the colorless bears is an extremely rare feat anywhere – however, in America, the sighting is especially unusual
- Bear genetics spread across the vastness of the North American continent provides a much smaller chance of white or blonde colorings
- Currently, the phenomenon is almost exclusively confined to western Canada, home to a certain species of black bear sometimes born with blonde colorings
A ‘one-in-a-million’ black bear with white fur was spotted traversing the Michigan wilderness earlier this month, in a sighting that wildlife officials have since hailed as one of the rarest in recent history.
The 100-pound bear – which looks like something straight out of a fairy tale – was spotted in the western Upper Peninsula, a region of The Great Lake State where bears are in abundance.
With that said, the bear’s appearance was just about the only common thing about the sighting.
Distinct from polar bears or albinos, black bears with white fur are the result of a one-in-a-million chance where both the bear’s male and female parents bred and produced a recessive gene for white fur.
Spotting one of the colorless bears is a rare feat anywhere – however, in America, the sighting is especially unusual, due to the fact that bear genetics spread across the North American continent provides a much smaller chance of white or blonde colorings.
Currently, the phenomenon is almost exclusively confined to western Canada, home to a certain subspecies of the American black bear sometimes born with blonde colorings.
Originally called ‘Spirit Bears’ by Native American who once roamed the then-rough American landscape, the sighting of the elusive, all-white critter is the first in state history, and the first time one was filmed in the US in nearly 20 years.
Wildlife officials in the region, meanwhile, are keeping their eyes peeled for the elusive beast, who is danger of being poached during the ongoing hunting season, which ends October 14.
A ‘one-in-a-million’ black bear with white fur – sometimes tabbed as ‘Spirit Bears’ – was spotted traversing the Michigan wilderness earlier this month
The approximately 100-pound bear – which looks like something straight out of a fairy tale – was spotted in the western Upper Peninsula, a region of The Great Lake State where bears are in abundance
Photos of the Michigan bear were taken by a camera trap – an automatic device that can be set up on a trail to take a picture when it detects movement. The news was first reported by MLive.
The footage was captured by a resident of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and shared with the agency.
‘I thought it was just too cool,’ said Cody Norton, a carnivore specialist with the local Department of Natural Resources.
Norton remarked to MLive exactly how rare the discovery was in his neck of the woods.
‘It’s just exciting seeing an animal pop up like this here instead of somewhere else,’ Norton told the outlet, adding that while the department has yet to confirm the male bear actually has white fur – but based on the footage, they are fairly certain it does.
‘We’ve had some cinnamon color phases show up, some blonde and chocolate on some trail cameras we use for surveys, which is also really cool to see,’ Norton said.
‘But those are more common in bear populations. White is its own thing.’
As Norton says, the animal in question is not your average bear: It boasts a nearly all-white coat, with some cinnamon colorings on the top of its head and neck, the photos show.
The sighting marks just the fifth time a ‘spirit bear’ has been spotted outside of Canada – meaning the Michigan animal is a one-in-a-million genetical anomaly, according to the nonprofit North American Bear Center in Ely, Minnesota.
‘So very cool. Very beautiful animal,’ said Norton of the discovery, which he said is particularly important due to potential scientific research possibilities if they continue to observe the otherworldly critter.
Norton added that since the recessive ‘white’ gene is present chiefly among the Canadian subspecies, called Kermode bears, it ‘makes sense they show up more in the population.’
‘But for one to show up in a large, widely connected population, it’s much much more rare.’
Distinct from polar bears or albinos, b lack bears with white fur are the result of a one-in-a-million chance where both the bear’s male and female parents bred and produced a recessive gene for white fur
Originally called ‘Spirit Bears’ by Native American who once roamed the then-rough American landscape, the sighting of the elusive, all-white critter is the first in state history, and the first time one was filmed in the US in nearly 20 years
The all-white phenomenon, according to experts, are more common in the US’ neighbor to the north due to the fact that hey are isolated from the larger black bear population on the North American continent.
Kermode bears, meanwhile, live on a chain of islands along the Pacific coastline of British Columbia, were roughly 10-20 percent of the population has white fur. This is because the recessive genes turn up more often in the animals’ more limited gene pool, Renowned bear expert Lynn Rogers of the Wildlife Research Institute said.
‘So, there are a few genes in this area,’ the longtime bear researcher, who is based in Minnesota, told MLive of the magnitude of the recent discovery. ‘It’s a double-recessive gene. And if there are fewer of those genes here, it’s going to be rare that you get a double-recessive combination.’
It is not yet known if the bear spotted this month possesses any genetic connection to the Kermode bears in Canada, with DNR officials not normally required to seek out a bear to confirm its existence based on its color.
DNR officials do, however, investigate sightings of bears, cougars, and other large carnivores.
The original owner of the camera that managed to capture the bear – which appeared to be rummaging through bear bait left at the site when it was photographed – first shared the photographs to social media, which were subsequently sent to DNR officials earlier this week.
And while state wildlife experts are eager to track the almost-mythical beast, they have not been able to do so due to the ongoing bear hunting season that started on September 7 and extends through October.
The footage was first captured on September 3, just days before the outset of the season – meaning the bear’s safety could be in jeopardy, if it hasn’t been killed by poachers already.
Unlike in British Columbia – where fewer than 400 white-colored bears roam the Canadian countryside – there are no special legal protections for bears with white fur in Michigan.
Their Canadian counterparts, however, are known for standing out to hunters in the green of surrounding forests – but are incredibly proficient salmon fishers, due to the fact their white fur allows them to camouflage against clouds in the sky.
Michigan officials, meanwhile, are eager to learn more about the animal – which Norton estimated was around 100 lbs and two years old – hopeful that the beast can overcome the odds and survive the dangerous hunting season.
‘Obviously, I’d love to actually see it,’ Norton said. ‘If it did get harvested,’ he continued, ‘we’d love to take a genetic sample and get to see if this is the same exact genetic mutation that is what is found in British Columbia… [or] something different.’
He added that if the bear does make it through the season, he looks forward to seeing future trail camera photos and any further information that may glean some information on the white-colored bear.
Norton said that he was adamant that the animal is a ‘spirit bear’ since it has coloration to its nose and skin, meaning it cannot be an albino or piebald animal.
He told MLive that the white fur, as well as the blonde or cinnamon patch on its neck and head, is ‘very consistent’ with Kermode bears.
‘If you look at everything else that shows up – to be rarer than a cougar or a lynx or anything else in Michigan – it’s pretty cool,’ the wildlife official told the outlet.
The resident who captured the footage, meanwhile – who asked to remain anonymous – said he at first did not believe the bear was white when he first saw the images.
Speaking to MLive, he admitted he even deleted the first two photos captured on the third, due to the fact that he thought it was the camera flash lighting up a normal brown bear in the darkness.
The next day, he realized he had been mistaken, after the camera remotely sent more images of the snow-colored carnivore.
‘It was like five o’clock and I’m still getting pictures from this bait,’ the resident, who works as a hunting guide in the western Upper Peninsula, explained.
‘And I look and I’m like, “Oh my God. Look at this thing.”‘
After sharing the images to social media, the hunter said he subsequently received critical messages from others in the area who were peeved that the posts would see a horde of outside hunters descend on the area.
He also received a number of hateful messages from anti-hunting advocates, some threatening him with violence for sharing the images, as several assumed he would hunt the bear or help one of his clients do so.
However, the hunter says that thought never crossed his mind, due to the fact that the ‘spirit bear’ was too special, and also too small for prime hunting.
‘I was not going to let anybody shoot that bear,’ the guide asserted.
With that said, the sighting is the first outside of British Columbia in nearly two decades.
The resident who captured the footage, meanwhile – who asked to remain anonymous – said he at first did not believe the bear was white when he first saw the images
The owner of the images admitted he even deleted the first two photos captured, due to the fact that he thought it was the camera flash lighting up a normal brown bear in the darkness
Other instances of bears with white coats being spotted outside the Canadian province include confirmed sightings of an adult in Minnesota in 1997, and two white cubs with a black mother in 2000.
The last American sighting came in 2004, with a single white cub and a black mother.
Austin Ayres, a wildlife technician with the KBIC Natural Resources Department, said that the sighting, at least in Native American culture, signifies great change to come, with the white bear being a representation of a new age for Anishinaabe people – the Indigenous peoples of the Great Lakes.
‘It is a sign of great change. Some stories say the bear only comes when it is time for Anishinaabe to embrace their role and step away from their distractions,’ Ayres said.
‘It is a reminder that within nature, anything and everything is possible, and the people should not go seeking anything outside of nature but understand all we need is within.’
The Native American wildlife expert went on to explain that in his culture’s folklore, the appearance of a white bear signifies a ‘great abundance of the medicines on the landscape’ and foretells a period of healing.
‘It is a sign for all people,’ Ayres, a member local Indigenous people from the Keewenaw Bay Indian Community, said.
‘We all have a choice, to desire more, to reach further, to expand our understandings, or to slow down, to understand the water more as spirit than as chemical.’
He added that the discovery also helps one recognize ‘plants as beings the same as the animals’ and ‘to not dictate how others act only offer them choice and the option to be better.’
Meanwhile, locals – including the hunter who spotted the bear – are fearing for the critter’s wellbeing, not because of hunters, but a pack of carnivorous wolves also spotted in the area, known to prey on bears.
Wildlife officials in the region, meanwhile, are keeping their eyes peeled for the elusive beast, who is danger of being poached during the ongoing hunting season, which ends October 14
Those fears are entrenched in the fact that the hunting expert saw one of his clients shoot a 300-pound brown bear in the area on September 8 – one day after the 100-lb white bear was last photographed.
Almost immediately, the pack of wolves began to consume significant portions of the dead bear in less than a half-hour – before the hunter arrived to scare them away.
‘They literally ate a two-foot by two-foot chunk of insides. They ate most of the stomach out of it and half of the ribcage, some of the backstraps on top of it and some of the hindquarter – all in 27 minutes only 80 yards away from this hunter,’ he explained.
He added that he does not believe that it is a coincidence the white bear disappeared the same day the wolves made their appearance – but hopes it is all right.
Wildlife officials in the region, meanwhile, are keeping their eyes peeled for the elusive beast. Bear hunting season is not set to end until October 14.