As Arctic Melts, Polar and Grizzly Bears Mate
Source: Laura Höflinger, Spiegel Online International
The melting Arctic ice has brought polar bears and grizzly bears together and their hybrid offspring, known as "pizzlies," have been detected on Canadian islands. It is a trend that is happening with other species as well, and scientists are worried because it poses a risk to biodiversity.
The two students from the University of Alberta, flying across the Arctic ice in a helicopter, were startled by what they saw below: a white dot and a brown dot on the ice. The biologists soon realized it was a grizzly bear next to a polar bear. The sighting was on Victoria Island, 500 kilometers (313 miles) from the grizzlies' normal habitat on the Canadian mainland.
The polar bear also struck them as a little strange. It had a dark stripe on its back, its snout looked dirty, its head was noticeably larger than normal, and there was a hump behind its shoulders, which is normally found only on brown bears. The paws looked as if the animal were wearing socks. The students had discovered a strange hybrid that goes by various names: grolar bear, pizzly or Nanulak, a combination of the two Inuit words for the animals' parents: polar bear (Nanuk) and grizzly (Aklak).
Two days later, on April 25, they spotted another strange-looking animal, probably also a hybrid. They also saw two other grizzlies. One was so fat that they believed it was feeding on seals, as polar bears do. Brown bears occasionally stray far north. But it's unusual for them to stay there, and it's even more unusual to find them mating with polar bears.
There have been hybrids in zoos, but their existence in the wild had for a long time only been speculated about. It isn't as if polar bears and brown bears never came into contact with one another, but their encounters were usually of the aggressive kind. In 2006, an American hunter shot an unusual-looking polar bear on Nelson Head, a cape in Canada's Northwest Territories.
DNA analysis established that the animal was the first recorded pizzly found in the wild. Another bear was shot on Victoria Island in 2010. This time it was an even greater sensation, because the animal was the offspring of a hybrid bear, which meant that it was already a second-generation pizzly.
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