Scientists curious about rare, off-white Whistler bear cub
'We really advise against any intent to find and approach this bear,' warn experts
Bear biologists are trying to demystify the genetic makeup of a rare cream-coloured black bear cub spotted near the resort community of Whistler, B.C.
Arthur De Jong says he saw the cub frolicking with its mother on Whistler-Blackcomb mountain last Thursday, a couple of days after a guide first caught a glimpse of it.
It's not white, its got a caramel, light, sort of brownish sheen to its fur.- Arthur De Jong
The environmental planning manager for Whistler-Blackcomb snapped some photos when he spotted it by "pure chance."
"I made some approximations, knowing where the best food supply is, and on a hunch I just got lucky and caught the two for a 45-minute span between meetings," said the environmental planning manager for Whistler-Blackcomb.
Experts are trying to determine if the cub — about five months old — is albino or a Kermode bear, which live on British Columbia's north and central coast.
He says that so far, experts are leaning toward it being albino because unlike a Kermode, it does not have a black nose or pigmentation.
Albino or 'spirit' bear?
"It's not white, its got a caramel, light, sort of brownish sheen to its fur," De Jong said, adding biologists want to see photos of the cub's eyes because a "pink-blue colour" would mean it's albino.
"I've repeatedly heard from various bear experts that its (fur) colour is the result of recessive genes from both parents. The mom is very much a black bear."
May be short-lived
De Jong remains nervous that the "little guy" may not survive for long and could become habituated to people and garbage.
"It may not be with us in the next few weeks. Cubs have about a 50 per cent chance of survival in year one. It's a rough life," he said.
"The bears are going into mating season and that's when the cubs are at a very high risk because the males potentially kill the cubs and that'll force the mother to make some adjustments in their patterns of movement."
The mother has been seen in the area for four or five years, he said, adding the pair has moved about looking for food and were also seen in Garibaldi Provincial Park and a golf course.
No selfies please
De Jong said people will want to venture off in hopes of seeing the cub, but becoming habituated to humans would markedly reduce the animal's chance of staying alive.
"The fear mechanism that allows them to survive would be broken and he would likely not live long," De Jong said.
"If they're really close to people it means they're into garbage. Our waste has so much more fat content compared to their natural food supply that it's like crack. They get it and it's imprinted and then the fear mechanisms break down."
Conservation officer Simon Gravel, who covers the Whistler area, said he's worried that selfie-seekers will flock to the mountains to search for the cub.
"We really advise against any intent to find and approach this bear. It would be disrespectful for the bear and contribute toward a potential conflict situation. That's what we want to avoid at all price."
Anyone who wants to see bears in the area should take a guided tour and become educated about the animals, Gravel said.
Rare little bear
Whistler bear expert Michael Allen says the recent discovery of a nearly white bear cub in the area's mountains is the first he's seen in 23 years of research.
"I have seen cubs ranging [from] black, reddish-brown, chocolate-brown to blonde (after summer bleaching of coat) but, never have [I] seen in this population, a cub with pelage this light to almost white," he wrote earlier this week in an entry posted to his daily bear viewing report.
Tour guide Kathy Jenkins spotted the rare cub out with a resident black mother bear last week.
Meet Whistler's newest celebrity! A rare white bear cub was spotted on Blackcomb this week. <a href="https://t.co/GNvfOvSAif">pic.twitter.com/GNvfOvSAif</a>—@carletonlodge
With files from The Canadian Press