May 11, 2006
Bear Breed Blending
Napoleon Dynamite made the liger, a cross between a lion and a tiger, famous, but they are certainly not the only hybrid about. Still, most hybrids occur in captivity, where they don't have much mate selection potential. We're talking domestic pets like dogs and cats, and zoo critters. Various bear species, such as polar bears and grizzlies, have successfully had cubs in zoos, but no cases have been documented in the wild.
IQALUIT, Nunavut - Northern hunters, scientists and people with vivid imaginations have discussed the possibility for years.
But Roger Kuptana, a guide from Canada's Sachs Harbor was the first to suspect it had actually happened when he proposed that a strange-looking bear shot last month by an American sports hunter might be half polar bear, half grizzly.
Officials seized the creature after noticing its white fur was scattered with brown patches and that it had the long claws and humped back of a grizzly. Now a DNA test has confirmed that it is indeed a hybrid — possibly the first documented in the wild.
Colin Adjun, a wildlife officer in Nunavut, said he's heard stories before about an oddly colored bear cavorting with polar bears. "It was a light chocolate color along with a couple of polar bears," Adjun said.
The DNA results were good news for Martell, who had paid $50,000 for guides and a permit to hunt polar bear. Before the tests came back, the 65-year-old hunter was facing the possibility of a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail for shooting a bear for which he had no permit — as well as the disappointment of an expensive hunting trip with no trophy.
The local natural resources department now plans to return the bear to the hunter.
If you think about it, it makes sense that species hybridization does not occur frequently in the wild. Not only do the relative species need overlapping territory, but also overlapping breeding seasons. Even if the species match up on the breeding calendar, they still need to be close enough in species to have fertile offspring. They also have to recognize one another as potential mates and survive the encounter without killing each other.
And that's just what appears to have happened when a grizzly male met a female polar bear over a seal meal romantically lit by the Northern Lights. Was it a fluke of nature, or were the bears driven to one another over global warming and habitat destruction?
Whatever it was, it was likely a one night stand.
Posted by sorsha at May 11, 2006 4:43 PM
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