This is no albino grizzly. Experts say that a hunter in Nunavut recently shot and killed a very rare grizzly-polar bear hybrid near the rural community of Arviat. The hunter, 25-year-old Didji Ishalook, was the first to notice that the animal he downed had characteristics of both species.
“It looks like a polar bear, but it’s got brown paws and big claws like a grizzly,” Ishalook told the Guardian. “And the shape of a grizzly head.”
Yet experts say that the bear is no albino. It lacks the pink coloration that a typical albino animal would have, and its nose and eyes appear to have normal pigmentation. Instead, bear researcher Dave Garshelis says that hybrids, described interchangeably as “pizzly bears” and “grolars”, are becoming more common due to breeding between the two species.
“With climate change, grizzly bears are moving further north, so there is more overlap between grizzly bears and polar bears in terms of their range,” Garshelis told the CBC. “There are even American black bears that are moving further north. And a few black bears have been spotted outside of Arviat.”
As the sea ice starts to disappear, more and more polar bears are moving south as well, coming into contact with other bear species. Genetically speaking, polar bears and brown bears are very similar and may be evolutionarily linked. As the two species start sharing the same territory, experts say that males are pursuing females opportunistically, and finding a mate of their own species may not exactly take a high priority.
“We are looking at an evolutionary change in the long term where overlaps are increasing and polar bears don’t have a lot of options,” Chris Servheen, a bear expert at the University of Montana, told the Guardian. “But it will be hundreds of generations before we really see a new type of bear.”