National Geographic : 2017 Dec
| EXPLORE | BASIC INSTINCTS their offspring will have white fur. To con- firm this, researchers used wire snares to collect samples of bears’ hair, then analyzed the DNA. Of 220 bears, 22 had inherited the recessive white-coat gene from both parents—and all 22 were white. Mating season lasts from May through July. As in all bear species, fertilized em- bryos delay implantation in the female’s uterus. If a sow isn’t vigorous enough to sustain a pregnancy, embryos won’t implant and she’ll bear no cubs that year. But if she’s healthy and strong, the em- bryos will implant in the fall and a one- to five-cub litter will be born that winter. In this matter the spirit bear uses its white magic. To store fat for winter, the bears spend fall days gorging on salmon. According to a 2009 study, during day- light the fish are twice as likely to evade the grasp of a black predator as a white one, faint as a ghost against the pale sky. For millennia the Kitasoo native people on Canada’s Pacific coast have known this bear and its legend. As the elders tell it, Raven the Creator had turned Earth from a frozen rock into a green garden. But as a reminder of the ice age, he caused every 10th black bear to be white. The formal name is Kermode bear. Locals call them ghost, or spirit, bears, and some believe they’re sacred or supernatural creatures. There is science, not just folklore, behind several of the spirit bear’s traits. By genus and species, it’s an American black bear. But if both parents (no matter their color) have the same mutation in a gene that affects pigment production, WHY THIS BLACK BEAR IS WHITE By Patricia Edmonds PHOTO: PAUL NICKLEN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE SPIRIT BEAR HABITAT/RANGE Islands and coast of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia CONSERVATION STATUS It’s among Earth’s rarest bears, with an estimated population of a few hundred. OTHER FACTS The name Ursus ameri- canus kermodei honors Francis Kermode, one of the first people to identify the subspecies.