Polar-Grizzly Bear Hybrids Now Found in the Wild

Polar-Grizzly Bear Hybrids Now Found in the Wild

A polar-grizzly bear hybrid walking on the shore.

Written by Erin Marty

Polar-grizzly bear hybrids – also known as grolar bears – were once thought to be found only in zoos. Now they are being discovered in the wild.

On Banks Island in 2006, a strange creature was shot: a grolar bear. The DNA of the animal was tested by scientists, who discovered that the shot bear was the offspring of a polar bear and grizzly bear. In 2010, a second-generation hybrid was also found and shot in the wild of Canada’s Northwest Territories by David Kuptana.

Both of these events prove that polar-grizzly hybrids are not only surviving, but thriving in the wild. They are successfully passing on their genes to newer generations. Once believe to be reproducing solely in captivity, researchers are finding out that polar-grizzly hybrid bears are now being discovered beyond the containing walls of zoos.

So what does this mean? Why are these bears – usually so far from each other in their natural environments – interbreeding? According to National Geographic, researchers have concluded that each species is being forced into closer proximity with one another. Unfortunately, much of their natural habitat is lost is due to human intervention and impacts. On top of that, there are even some scientists who believe that global warming is to blame.

Marine biology of the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska, Brendan Kelly, suggests that these polar-grizzly hybrids are, if anything, going to become a rather popular addition to the animal kingdom. This is primarily because of the melting sea ice, and without sea ice for them to hunt and live on, the polar bears will be forced further inland near grizzly bears, thus resulting in an increase of polar-grizzly hybrids.

In the end, there may be even more mixed creatures than just polar-grizzly hybrids. Kelly states: “We’re taking this continent-sized barrier to animal movement, and in a few generations, it’s going to disappear, at least in summer months. 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 of that.”

Along with other animals that may possibly interbreed, if Kelly is correct, then the near future is sure to find more polar-grizzly bear hybrids. That being said, if you ever find yourself in one of those rare and heart-pounding situations in which you spy a bear in the wild, you may be looking at a grolar bear if it has the following attributes: lengthy necks, broad shoulders and humps, oh and of course the combination of coarse polar and grizzly hairs. But, to be on the safe side, you may want to keep your hybrid tacking skills solely at the zoo.

There Might Be Bears

Keep all food — and any scented products — well away from your campsite

Thankfully, we don’t need to worry too much about lions and tigers when we take to the mountains and forests to hike or camp. (Well, cougars in some locations, but that seems to be pretty rare). What is not so rare is to encounter a bear! Population sprawl has driven bears into suburban communities and has exposed them to the influence of humans. Namely, human food. Yogi, that pesky cartoon bear, loved those picnic baskets, but you really wouldn’t want to meet up with him face-to-face at your campsite.

Zookeepers at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo recently staged a demonstration with two of the park’s grizzlies to make a point. They set up a mock campsite with typical coolers and tents full of typical camping food, then kicked back to see what would happen. The grizzlies quickly transformed the site into a big bear supermarket. They crushed the coolers and tore apart sleeping bags in search of a hidden granola bar. “They know what they’re looking for,” said Woodland Park’s Julie Hopkins. “They’re following their noses for every good smell they can find.” Wildlife experts say brown bears can remember 10 years later where they found a good food source.

Bear-resistant containers are smooth and rounding to prevent bears from gripping

The lesson learned here is to always, always keep food well away from your campsite’s sleeping area, at least 100 feet away. And while hanging food in trees is one method to keep the bears away, some parks, such as Yellowstone National Park, don’t allow it. Bear-resistant containers have proven to be a far better deterrent. Made from a tough ABS polymer with smooth sides and rounded edges, bears have nothing to grip onto. Lids are secured with stainless steel locks that are easy for humans to open with a coin or a screwdriver, but are difficult for bears to open. Anything with a scent should be stowed in the canister, and this includes sunscreen, soap, mosquito repellent, lip balm, deodorant, medications, toothpaste, and feminine products — along with food, of course. Keep the canisters locked, placed on a level surface 100 feet or more from the campsite, away from cliffs or water sources so a bear can’t knock it down a hill or roll it into the water. Additionally, don’t attach a rope as bears could easily carry it away. Some people place pots and pans on top of the canister to sound an alarm if a bear disturbs the container. For hikers, carry the canister in your pack and replace food that you eat with other items to conserve space.

Wild bears have a natural fear of humans and will attempt to avoid people, but they can become aggressive once they’ve had a taste of human food. In addition to securing your food, are some helpful tips for avoiding bears on your next hiking or camping trip.

  • Make plenty of noise so you don’t surprise bears that may be on your path. (Attach a bell to your backpack).
  • Try to travel with the wind at your back. Bears can smell your scent from miles away if the wind is in the right direction.
  • Some experts say that dogs can provoke a bear attack. It may be advisable to not bring your dog along when travelling in bear country.
  • Bears are more active at dawn and sunset from May to October.
  • Bear repellent spray is a pressurized cayenne pepper that can be projected up to 8 meters, causing burning and tearing of the eyes and inflammation of the lungs and throat. The effects of the bear spray last up to an hour but do not cause lasting damage. (Carry in an easily accessible holster). Use bear spray only if the bear charges to within a few meters.

Bottom line? Bears are not Yogi or Smokey. They are large, fast, and potentially vicious wild animals, and when we encroach into their habitat, common sense and pre-planning must prevail. Lions and tigers? Not so much. But bears? Oh my.