Rare white ‘spirit bear’ spotted in Michigan

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Rare white ‘spirit bear’ spotted in Michigan

An all-white “spirit bear” has been seen in the far northern corner of Michigan, a rare sighting of one of North America’s most elusive creatures.

“Spirit bears” are not a unique species of bear — nor are they polar bears — but rather an uncommon type of black bear.

Most spirit bears make their home on a few islands along the Pacific coast in Canada’s British Columbia, making this alleged spotting in Michigan even more unusual.

Black bears range across North America, from Alaska all the way down to Mexico and Florida. But only in British Columbia is there a known population of all-white individuals.

The bears are also known as “Kermode bears” after Francis Kermode, who ran the province’s Royal BC Museum in the early 20th century.

Photos of the Michigan bear were taken by a camera trap — an automatic camera that can be set up to take a picture when it detects movement — owned by a resident of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The news was first reported by MLive.

According to the North American Bear Center, just one in every million black bears outside of British Columbia ends up with white fur — and just a handful of these bears have ever been spotted.

A wildlife biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources told MLive that the bear does not appear to be albino or piebald — two other conditions that can make an animal look white — and that the photos look in line with Kermode or spirit bears.

Other black bear populations in North America have distinctive fur colourations as well.

While most populations sport a shiny black coat, many bears in the western US — such as those in Yellowstone National Park and the Sierra Nevada mountains of California — have a uniquely brown colour. Some black bears in Alaska, known as “glacier bears”, also have silvery-grey fur.

Spirit bears hold a distinct place in the culture of some indigenous groups in the Pacific Northwest. This year, First Nations organizations worked with the British Columbia government to help protect these rare animals, reports the CBC.