Spirit Bears – 10 Cool Things About the Rare White (Kermode) Bear of the Great Bear Rainforest

The spirit bear (also known as the kermode bear) is a rare white phase of the black bear. And in the Great Bear Rainforest, in British Columbia, Canada, the spirit bear is found in high concentration – unique in the world.

Here are some neat things about this creamy-white animal that is catching our attention now — but has been catching salmon in the inky-green rainforest for thousands of years!

1. Spirit bears are not albinos! Albinos have an absence of pigmentation, but spirit bears have pigmentation: their eyes are dark and when you see one, you see that the skin on their foot pads is dark, too.

2. It’s genetic. Why are spirit bears white? It’s due to a single recessive nulceotide replacement in one of their genes. Think of it like blue eyes in humans, but extremely rare. In order to be white, a cub must receive the same recessive information in that gene from both parents.

3. There is more than meets the eye. Even black bears in white bear territory carry the white gene – just as brown-eyed people can carry the blue-eyed gene in humans. And they can pass it on to their offspring. In fact more than half of black bears in some parts of this rainforest carry the spirit bear genetic makeup.

4. So a black mum can have a white cub? Yup. And vice-versa.

5. What’s the advantage to being a white bear? Scientists have an idea. All of the bears in the Great Bear Rainforest have a heavy reliance on salmon. It provides about 80% of their annual protein. Scientists think that spirit bears standing above rivers fishing are more “hidden” than black bears. Why? Because to the salmon, looking up for danger, the spirit bear is light like the sky. Whereas a black bear would loom dark and foreboding against a light sky. Studies have shown that in daylight hours, spirit bears are more successful at catching salmon than black bears!

6. How did they find that out? If you are thinking it must have involved scientists in bear suits… you are right! Goofy as it sounds, it was actually very scientifically done. One of the key researchers in this is Dr. Tom Reimchen, from the University of Victoria. You can learn more about him on his website.

7. The spirit bear lives in the islands of the Great Bear Rainforest. These islands are covered in cedar, hemlock and fir trees and pierced by creeks and streams where the bears fish in the autumn. We think they may be rarely seen on the mainland and are mostly found on the islands because grizzly bears (brown bears) frequent the mainland fishing areas, and grizzly bears always dominate. So grizzlies would keep the white bears on the islands.

8. What does kermode mean, anyway? Kermode is part of the scientific name for this animal – the part that denotes this “phase” of the black bear. It is from a man called Francis Kermode, an employee of British Columbia’s provincial museum, who helped scientists obtain pelts of the animal to study. Spirit bear is a name from the First Nations of the area, who have lived with these animals as long as both have been on the coast, and hold them in high regard. There is even a story that they were created to remind people of the ice age.

9. Are spirit bears protected? Well, interesting question. Yes, but not fully. We need to make sure their supply of salmon and their rainforest ecosystem is protected. But beyond that, it is illegal to hunt a white bear in British Columbia. But the black bears that carry the white gene and can create spirit cubs can be shot. Raincoast Conservation Foundation is working toward that by buying the commercial trophy hunting licences in the area. To find out more, visit their website: www.raincoast.org.

10. How can I see a spirit bear? Your best option is to travel through BC’s Great Bear Rainforest by ship. In fact, several responsible tourism businesses, including one owned by my family, have offered spirit bear viewing trips for over 20 years! Taking such a trip helps protect the bears, by providing a conservation-based economy (responsibly viewing the animals).

A white bear is such a surprise in the dark rainforest world. Now you have an inkling as to why it might be there, and the fascinating questions it makes us ask.

Discover the Costa Rican Rainforest

Costa Rican rainforests are the pride of this tiny country in Central America since it comprises at least 20 to 25% of its national territory. Its natural abundance of plants and animal species made its territory famously known as one of the World’s most bio-diverse regions. Its incredible abundance of flora and fauna which exists in its rainforests makes a very interesting destination for zealous nature lovers, ecologists and conservationists. Its Rainforest and eco-tourism are a vital source of income in Costa Rica.

The rainforest in Costa Rica is the habitat of more than 10,000 plant species, some 850 bird species, 1200 butterfly species, 230 species of mammals and about 440 species of amphibians and reptiles. These worldly famous animal and plant species are protected by its tropical rain forests and national reserves. These forests, in turn, are also protected by means of conservation organizations funded by the government mainly for the sole purpose of preserving and protecting at least a portion of the forests with higher biodiversity. One example is the 40 mile strip of protected forest through nine ecological zones. For this reason, 23% of the rainforests in Costa Rica are considered protected.

The cloud forests, dry forests and tropical rain forests are considered most impressive areas of Costa Rican rain forests. The famous cloud forests are said to rely on mountain-tops namely the ones in Monteverde. The Santa Rosa National Park is an example of a tropical rain forest. In these types of forests, rainfall is highly seasonal mostly during May to November. The dry rain forests are considered the most common while cloud forests are considered remarkable and beautiful as it covers the slopes of mountains and volcanoes. We can appreciate Costa Rica rain forest more profoundly once we travel to this magnificent destination.

The country’s abundance in fauna or its species of animals is another reason why Costa Rica nature is considered one of the most widely admired locations in the world. I’ve written in my previous articles that Costa Rica is considered a paradise for those who just love the outdoors. Bird watching is a favorite among tourists and you’ll be able to see that its mountains help in giving shelter to its bird species. Famous bird species include the resplendent quetzal and Scarlet Macaw that usually leave watchers fascinated by its beauty. The best territories for bird watching would have to be Monteverde, Talamanca, Osa Peninsula and Braulio Carillo where rain forest vacations are usually spent by most travelers and bird watchers.

Ant Swarms or these so-called army ants are prevalent in Costa Rican rain forest as well. Some birds act as predators and eat these ant swarms and the insects that they feed on. The tanagers, wrens, antibirds, and manakins are examples of birds who pick on Ant Swarms.

Costa Rica parks are another source that generates income for the country. Millions of tourists each year visit the country’s famous national parks namely the Arenal Volcano National Park, Manuel Antonio National Park, Braulio Carrillo National Park, Guanacaste National Park, Tortuguero National Park and so much more. Currently, there 26 beautiful National Parks located in Costa. I can’t wait to travel to these parts and experience Costa Rica’s magic first hand.

A Trek Through Malaysia’s Tropical Rainforest

Lush green, prolific life surrounding the giant trunks of ancient trees is most people’s idea of a tropical rainforest. If you’ve always dreamed of seeing one for yourself or going on an adventure holiday, Malaysia’s foremost national wilderness is my recommendation. It’s called Taman Negara which means “national park,” but with Malaysia’s strict conservation laws, it’s more wilderness than park.

The vast swath of protected land lies in the heart of continental Malaysia in the Cameron Highlands. It not only boasts countless varieties of plant and animal life, but also varied terrain that is still accessible to most active people. Besides such exotic flora as tree ferns, orchids and rafflesia, it is home to endangered species of Asian elephants, tigers, and rhinos. Sightings of endangered species are rare, but iguana, deer, birds and bats are easily seen if you know how and where to look. Local tour guides love to show these off.

It’s well off the beaten path for most Westerns, which is part of its charm for enthusiasts. In fact, most visitors must reach park headquarters in small riverboats. The only road would be rough even for a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Other parts of the park are only accessible by foot. A trek up Mount Tahan takes about four days of backpacking.

But if you’re looking for adventure on the wild side, here are a few tips:

1. Book a group stay. You must book ahead, and most tours have a minimum number of persons required (some as low a four). If someone in your group speaks Malay or Indonesian, so much the better.

2. Obtain photo permits. If you want to take pictures, get a permit. It’s the law.

3. Have local cash currency. There are no banks in a foreign wilderness.

4. Pick a good time of year to travel. This would be when it isn’t too wet or too crowded with locals. Did I mention it’s a rainforest? March is the driest month and is mating season for many species.

5. Wear protective clothing. Heavy jeans, long sleeved shirts and sneakers are ideal. This might seem hot, but tropical rainforests are home to large quantities of insects and leeches. I suggest protection first and comfort later.

6. Get international travel insurance. Make sure you are healthy enough for wandering through a wilderness several hours from any medical help. If you are, check out travelers insurance for any unforeseen emergencies you might encounter. Illnesses and injuries occur more frequently than we want, often necessitating emergency medical evacuation.

Then relax and enjoy the mesmerizing panorama of a tropical rainforest.