Save the Spirit Bear

The Spirit Bear - the Official Mammal of British Columbia - is a wildlife treasure as unique to Canada as the Panda is to China. Despite being recognized as a treasure, problems continue to threaten the survival of this species!

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What is a Spirit Bear?
The Kermode bear, commonly referred to as the spirit bear, is a subspecies of the American Black Bear. This subspecies is the byproduct of a recessive gene which causes one out of every 10 bear cubs to be born with white fur. This white fur provides an advantage to the spirit bear, allowing it to be 30% more successful in hunting during the day than the typical Black Bear. The spirit bear has a population believed to be between 200 to 400 individuals which reside on the west coast of Canada - an area known as the Great Bear Rainforest.

When were they discovered?
Evidence suggests that the recessive gene that produces the white bear evolved around 10,000 BC. In 1905, W. T. Hornaday discovered the species and decided to name it after his friend Francis Kermode.

Where do they live?
This genetically unique animal is found mainly on Gribbell Island and Princess Royal Island off the coast of western Canada. The Kermode subspecies can also be found on other areas of the BC north coast, including around the community of Terrace. With most of the Kermode bear's habitat having been developed, its last complete ecosystem - an area of 250,000 hectares - must be conserved. Two thirds of this large area has been protected, however one third (the Green-Sheep Passage/Tolmie Operating Area) has been opened for development. Without preserving the entire intact habitat, the Spirit Bear population continues to be in danger.

What do they eat?
The Spirit Bear relies on berries, fruits, nuts, roots, plants, deer, insects and carrion for food. It is salmon, however that this bear relies on primarily as it's main food source. During the critical feeding time when the majority of the bear's fat is put on, 95% of the bear's diet is salmon. Researchers have found that this supspecies is far more dependent on salmon than their black counterpart. However, over-fishing and habitat destruction have resulted in a significant decrease in salmon along the west coast of North America over the last century.

Struggles from the past!
More than 15 years ago, Simon Jackson founded the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition in a fight to save the spirit bear that was then under attack by the threat of logging on Princess Royal Island. Due to the support of millions from around the world, 200, 000 acres of the Spirit Bear's last intact habitat was forever protected.

Struggles Continue!
The black bears which live in the Green-Sheep Passage region do not carry the white fur producing gene in as high frequency as those that live on Princess Royal Island. If logging continues in the unprotected third of this final habitat, these bears will be forced to relocate and they will almost certainly inhabit Princess Royal Island. An influx of bears carrying a different genetic code will cause the gene pool to be diluted over time. This will result in the disappearance of the genetically unique Spirit Bear altogether.

While it is illegal to hunt the white Kermode bear, it is legal to hunt the black bear that carries the unique white gene which results in the birth of the Spirit Bear. Reduction in the black bear population will directly impact the Spirit Bear population. Protection from hunting in this one area must be given to all bears in order to maintain genetic diversity and ensure the survival of the Spirit Bear.

The bear's habitat is currently under threat from the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, whose planned route would send crude from Alberta on oil tankers through spirit bear waters. Enbridge has been responsible for more than 700 oil spills in less than 10 years. Should an oil spill occur in the Great Bear Rainforest, the results would be devastating for the Spirit Bear population. Its primary food source -salmon - would be destroyed resulting in the eventual extinction of the species.

Why is this important?
This is the only place in the world where the spirit bear lives. If we destroy the fine ecological balance that results in these white bears, we risk losing the spirit bear forever. The world needs these bears to survive not only for the role it plays in its globally important ecosystem, but also as a symbol to what youth and citizens can achieve when they work together. If we fail, there is no turning back, no reintroducing white bears: we have one chance and this is it.

How you can help!
It's rather simple! For starters, sign the Petition to stop Enbridge's Northern Gateway Pipeline and protect the spirit bears from the most immediate danger they face.

Take one step further and send a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and/or the CEO of Enbridge.

For more information, please visit The Spirit Bear Youth Coalition.

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