That polar-grizzly bear hybrid wasn't a hybrid at all

Most experts incorrectly predicted the bear was either a grolar or pizzly, which is determined based upon whether the father is a polar or grizzly. DNA testing set the record straight.
June 22, 2016, 5:13pm
Photo via Didji Ishalook Facebook

A bear killed by a hunter in Nunavut last month that many believed to be a grizzly-polar hybrid was actually a blond grizzly, according to the government of Nunavut.

The bear's death sparked intense interest from the public and experts, as killings of grizzly-polar hybrids are extremely rare, with only around three kills confirmed in the last decade.

Most experts incorrectly predicted the bear was either a grolar or pizzly, which is determined based upon whether the father is a polar or grizzly. All hybrids discovered thus far have had grizzly fathers, according to the Washington Post.

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A wildlife manager for the government of Nunavut, Mathieu Dumond, told CBC News, "it's so rare that unfortunately I think nobody has a lot of experience in identifying a hybrid from the first sight."

The northern Canadian territory identified the bear by collecting a tissue sample, and then submitting it for DNA analysis at a genetics lab. The analysis found that the bear didn't have any polar bear parent, and was just a blond grizzly bear, which Dumond says is significantly less rare than a hybrid.

Photo via Didji Ishalook

This finding comes as somewhat of a relief to environmental experts. A hybrid death would have served as a troubling reminder that climate change is speeding up Arctic ice recession, giving grizzly bears expanded territory to roam on and thereby increasing the frequency of their interaction with polar bears.

A professor of biological studies at the University of Alberta, Andrew Derocher, told the Washington Post, "as climate change continues, terrestrial habitat is going to increase, and the likelihood is the habitat for grizzlies, a terrestrial bear, is going to get better."

An emeritus research scientist with Environment Canada, Ian Sterling, told the Toronto Star that grizzly bears and polar bears would have to be in contact with each other for several days before mating. "The fact that a grizzly and polar bear are mating tells you that they're hanging out. This isn't just a casual one-night stand kind of thing."

Yet this modern romance may be the demise of polar bears, according to Derocher. "I hate to say it, but from a genetic perspective, it's quite likely grizzly bears will eat polar bears up, genetically."

Related: Half Grizzly, Half Polar Bear: A New Hybrid May Be Roaming the Canadian North

Follow Davide Mastracci: @DavideMastracci