Extremely Rare Albino ‘Spirit Bear’ Killed by Wolves Days After Being Spotted in Michigan

by Lauren Boisvert

On September 6, a trail cam in Michigan caught a rare, one-in-a-million sight: a “spirit bear,” which is a black bear with a white or blonde coat. These are also called kermode bears in British Columbia, Canada, where they are considered the official provincial mammal.

This kermode bear was living in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where it was caught on camera. This was only the fifth time a kermode bear was sighted outside of British Columbia, so this bear’s fate is that much more tragic. It was reported recently that wolves killed Michigan’s kermode bear shortly after photos started to make the rounds.

Facebook page Yooper Outdoors #906, guide service and outfitter in Michigan, shared the information. The page wrote, “Our wolf population has devastated our big game populations in the [Upper Peninsula].”

At the time, Yooper Outdoors #906 shared the photos on Facebook with the caption, “There’s been a white black bear on camera in the Yoop! Extremely rare, but [you] never know what [may be] walking into your bait!” The Michigan Department of Natural Resources picked up on the post.

“I thought it was just too cool,” said Cody Norton, DNR large carnivore specialist. “It’s just exciting seeing an animal pop up like this here instead of somewhere else.” An unfortunate end to an extremely rare animal. But, wolves have to eat, too. Most likely, the wolves saw this bear as easy prey because it was so much smaller than usual black bears. This kermode bear weighed around 100 pounds, compared to adult male black bears which range from 125 to 500 pounds.

What To Know About Michigan’s Spirit Bear

As stated above, this 2-year-old bear was much smaller than usual males. This kermode also had flecks of cinnamon-colored fur around his head. These bears are so rare outside of British Columbia, and Lynn Rogers, a bear researcher at the Wildlife Research Institute in Minnesota, expressed extreme excitement and delight at the discovery of one in Michigan.

“It’s a double-recessive gene,” said Rogers of the bear’s unique coloring. “And if there are fewer of those genes here, it’s going to be rare that you get a double-recessive combination.”

What that means is that both the male and female bear must carry the recessive gene for the spirit bear’s white or blonde fur. When these bears mate, their offspring have more of a chance of carrying that double-recessive gene and coming out with white fur. The white fur is more than a unique feature, though, it’s actually useful. The kermode’s coloring acts as camouflage when it’s fishing, allowing it to blend in with the clouds, from a salmon’s perspective. That way, the predator can get closer to its prey and snatch them up quickly.

Right now, there are less than 400 kermode bears living on the stretch of coast from southeast Alaska to the tip of Vancouver Island. On the Price and Princess Royal Islands, there are about 120. Additionally, the largest number of kermode live within 80 square miles on Gribbell Island. They inhabit the island along with the Gitga’ata people of British Columbia.