If you ask somebody in British Columbia what a Spirit Bear is, many people will know that it is a rare genetic variant of a black bear that has white fur. They may know this, in part, because the Spirit Bear is the Official Mammal of the province.
Ask the same question of people outside of British Columbia and many people have no idea what you’re talking about. Since moving to Ontario, I have noticed a lot of blank faces when I mention Spirit Bears in conversation. “Huh?” said an acquaintance, “there are polar bears in BC?”
Based on feedback I received after posting a photo of a spirit bear on my blog, I realized that outside of the bear loving conservation community and BC, most people do not know they exist. It is not their fault. There are thought to be less than 400 Spirit Bears in existence. By comparison, a 2004 estimate by the World Wildlife Fund put the number of wild pandas – the very icon of endangerment – at approximately 1600.
So, for those of you who don’t know what a Spirit Bear is, or think that polar bears live in British Columbia, take a look at this primer on Spirit Bears from the good people at the Nature Conservancy.