Strange bear was grizzly-polar hybrid, tests show

The DNA of an oddly coloured bear shot in the Northwest Territories in April shows it was a hybrid of polar bear and grizzly — perhaps the first ever seen in the wild.

The DNA of a bear shot in the Northwest Territories in Aprilshows it was a hybrid of polar bear and grizzly — perhaps the first ever seen in the wild.

Scientists with the territory's Department of Environment and Natural Resources compared the animal's genetic makeup with samples taken from polar bears in the area and with DNA previously collected from grizzly bears along the coast to the south.

They concluded that the bear shot by Jim Martell was indeed a rare hybrid of the two types of bear. Officials say it could be the first recorded polar-grizzly bear hybrid found in the wild.

Martell, a sport hunter from the United States, was on a guided hunt when he shot the bear on April 16 near Nelson Head on southern Banks Island.

Since it looked like a polar bear but had strange colouration,thehide was turned over to the Environment and Natural Resources department for testing.

It was considered nearly impossible for the two species to mate, since polar bears mate on the ice, while grizzlies mate on land.

"It's a total surprise," said Roger Kuptana, Martell's guide.

He said the relationship between polar and grizzly bears is usually more adversarial.

"Some of the elders here in town say in the past there's been grizzly sightings but usually they fight."

Additional analyses are underway to determine whether the mother was a grizzly bear or a polar bear and to determine the age of the bear.

Martell had a tag that allowed him to huntpolar bears, but conservation officers were threatening to charge him with shooting a grizzly. It could have landed him 12 months in jail.

Martel wasn't very happy, having spent $50,000 on his trip. He was also worried he wouldn't be able to take the hide back home with him to Idaho.

ENR will return the hide to Martell, who is already back in the territory–on a grizzly hunt.