North

An overgrown skunk? Oddball white-domed bear spotted in N.W.T.

'I've seen a lot of bears over the years, and I've never seen a bear with a white head like that,' said Lawrence Mantla.

Lori Dashney and Lawrence Mantla took video of bear with white streak on its head

Lori Dashney and Lawrence Mantla spotted this bear with a white head near Fort Providence, N.W.T. 'I've seen a lot of bears over the years, and I've never seen a bear with a white head like that,' said Mantla. (Lori Dashney/Lawrence Mantla)

Lori Dashney and Lawrence Mantla weren't sure what they were looking at at first, while driving near Fort Providence, N.W.T.

"I thought it was just a big garbage bag sitting on the side of the road," Mantla said.

As they got closer, they discovered it was actually a bear — but not just any bear. 

"When we pulled over the truck and got close, we realized, 'Oh my gosh, there's something white on his head!'" Dashney recalled.

Sure enough, the black bear had a stark, white streak of fur up top.

We'll come across these unique experiences, but this really tops it all!- Lori Dashney

"I've seen a lot of bears over the years, and I've never seen a bear with a white head like that," said Mantla. "I was just amazed."

The two managed to take some video. When it was shared online, some people joked it was an overgrown skunk or badger. Others suggested it was a spirit bear, or maybe just a black bear that got into some white paint.

Dashney and Mantla say others have told them the bear was a good omen.

"Even when I went to Providence Health Centre, one of the elders said the same thing — 'it's good luck,' he says," Mantla said.

Genetic condition called leucism

Allicia Kelley, a wildlife researcher for the N.W.T. government who's based in the South Slave region, calls the video "pretty cool."

"It's hard not to think of a skunk when you see that bright white patch on the top of its head," she said.

Wildlife researcher says some bears can have blazes of white fur on their chest, like this one spotted on the Alaska Highway recently by Donna Hodson, north of Fort Nelson, B.C. (Submitted by Donna Hodson)

Kelley said some black bears can have little blazes of white fur, most often on the chest. But she figures this bear likely has a genetic condition called leucism, which results in partial loss of pigmentation in an animal's fur or feathers.

"In this case, the white patches are really stark white, and that's what makes me think it's more of a lack of pigmentation," she said.

'We'll come across these unique experiences, but this really tops it all!' says Dashney. (Submitted by Lori Dashney)

"I think it's just a unique quirk of this particular bear. It's really neat that someone was able to take a video, so that more people can see some of the variation that can occur in a species."

Mantla and Dashney are also pleased their video is getting attention. Dashney said some people told her that the bear's "positive energies" should be shared.

"That's why we put it out there," she said.

"Lawrence and I — and we go by 'L and L' — we'll come across these unique experiences, but this really tops it all!"

Written by Paul Tukker, based on an interview by Lawrence Nayally

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