An extremely rare white grizzly bear cub has been spotted in Canada's Rocky Mountains.
The unusual grizzly cub and its brown-coated sibling have been spotted in previous years, but they've been sighted on a few occasions this springtime between Banff and Yoho national parks in Canada. The pair are thought to be about 3.5 years old and this will be their second year away from their mother, according to an emailed statement from Parks Canada to IFLScience.
Locals have decided to name the bear “Nakoda,” which means “friend” or “ally” in the local native language of the three aboriginal tribes of the area – Bearspaw, Chiniki, and Wesley, according to Bow Valley Network.
“We were like ‘holy smokes! That is full-on a white grizzly bear.’ We knew we were so lucky because white grizzly bears are unheard of,” Cara Clarkson, who spotted the grizzly in late April, told local news source St Albert Today.
Experts say the grizzly bear is not albino, but rather possesses a recessive gene that caused its fur to grow white. The cub also has no relation to the polar bears of the Arctic or the Kermode “spirit” bear, a rare subspecies of the pale-furred American black bear living in the Central and North Coast regions of British Columbia.
We often associate bear species with uniform colors – we even named some species for it, like the black bear and brown bear. However, species of bear can exhibit a wide variation of fur color that can vary throughout an individual's life. There are also regional variations that are driven by genetics. For example, in different regions, black bears are known to have dark coats, blonde coats, cinnamon coats, or bluish-grey coats.
In terms of Nakoda the grizzly, the unique white color is believed to be a natural color phase variation that's rarely seen in this particular region.
“It’s certainly the only one I’m aware of that’s been seen in our Rocky Mountain National Park, but throughout grizzly bear range, grizzlies are known to vary in color from very dark to almost black. Your more typical colors are brown or blonde, but occasionally, you do see really light bears like this that look almost white,” said Seth Cherry, a wildlife ecologist with Parks Canada, according to Global News.
“This is definitely, definitely a special bear in that it is quite unique in being almost a white color.”
Unfortunately, wildlife officials are concerned Nakoda’s unique appearance might make it a target for hunters or intrusive photographers. As such, they’re remaining vague on its whereabouts and urge visitors to always keep a safe and respectful distance from any wildlife.
"Observing wildlife in their natural habitat is a privilege that comes with a responsibility to treat wildlife with the respect they deserve and need," Parks Canada said in a statement given to IFLScience.
"If you see wildlife near the highway, do not stop. When visitors see wildlife in other areas they should consider not stopping or, if safe to stop, always stay in their vehicles and give the animal space. Bears and other wildlife that become comfortable around people and roadsides are at greater risk of being struck by a vehicle."