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The “spirit” bears of Princess Royal Island

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At first glance, you could easily mistake it for a polar or albino black bear. But the elusive kermode or “spirit” bear is actually a white-furred variation of the black bear; a recessive gene passed from both parents gives it its white fur. The kermode is unique to the rugged temperate rainforest along BC’s central coast, its habitat concentrated in the fifteen million acres stretching from Bella Coola to Prince Rupert (also known as the Great Bear Rainforest). Despite pressure from conservationists to preserve its habitat, the kermode remains under threat from logging, hunting and mining. The highest number of kermode bears can be found on Princess Royal Island, 200km south of Prince Rupert, where ten percent of black bears are born with white fur. No humans live on the island and access is by boat or floatplane only, usually from Hartley Bay, a remote community of 180 Gitga’at people 140km south of Prince Rupert. The best viewing months are between August and October, when the bears gather around the creeks to feed on spawning salmon.

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