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What is a Kermode Bear?

The Kermode bear, also known as the "spirit bear," is a rare subspecies of the American black bear with a striking cream-colored coat, found primarily in Canada's Great Bear Rainforest. Revered in Indigenous cultures, this elusive creature plays a key role in its ecosystem. Curious about how they survive and their significance to conservation efforts? Dive deeper to uncover the mystery of the spirit bear.
Jacob Queen
Jacob Queen

The Kermode bear is a subspecies of the black bear that is only found in parts of western Canada, particularly on Princess Royal Island. These bears are especially noted for a rare gene they carry which allows some of them to have a white color. Even in the Kermode population, the white coloring is rare, but it is the most well-known aspect of the Kermode bear sub-species. The coloring has also resulted in the nickname “ghost bear," and there are several myths and legends surrounding them.

Only approximately 10% of the Kermode bear population carries the gene, and many of those don’t actually have the white coloring. Most Kermode bears look the same as regular black bears, although they can also have red, gray or yellow coloration. In order for a white bear to occur, two individual animals that carry the gene have to mate. Unlike many other species that have white hair, the Kermode bears are not considered albinos, because their nose and eye color isn’t affected.

Veterinarian with a puppy
Veterinarian with a puppy

The main habitat of the Kermode bear is the so-called “Great Bear Rainforest." This includes parts of British Columbia and several islands off the coast. The island portion of this habitat features several places where animals were allowed to evolve in isolation for a very long time. This is how most scientists think the Kermode sub-species developed. Many animals in this area, including the bears, have been known to have slightly less fear of humans, partly because of this isolation.

In most behaviors, the Kermode bear is very similar to other black bears. In the wintertime, they hibernate, usually emerging in early spring. Females give birth to approximately four cubs, and they take care of them for about two years. The mother bears generally watch their cubs very closely, which can make them potentially dangerous to people.

Like most bear species, the Kermode bear is omnivorous. The bears' main diet is salmon, which are very common in the area around the Great Bear Rainforest. They also generally eat a lot of berries, vegetation, and small creatures like insects or rodents. The Kermode bears have to eat a lot in the summer in order to fatten themselves up for hibernation, and that usually means they’ll eat just about anything they can safely find or catch.

Habitat destruction has greatly hurt the population of the Kermode bear. They're also interbreeding with other black bears, and this could eventually lead to the destruction of their unique genetic line. Law currently protects the bears, and there are efforts underway to keep the population safe, but the future of the Kermode bear generally remains uncertain.

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      Veterinarian with a puppy