A viral photo of a polar and grizzly bear hybrid dubbed the “pizzly bear” is making the rounds of social media. These hybrids are becoming more common, according to an article in Polar Journal. An image of the interesting animal was shared on Twitter.
In 2006, hunters in the Arctic shot a white bear with brown patches, which DNA tests confirmed to be a hybrid of a polar bear and grizzly. This cross-breeding was theoretically possible but hadn’t been seen before in the wild. Then, in 2010 another hunter killed a second-generation hybrid– meaning that its mother was already a hybrid of the two bears. There are likely more cases like this out there.
The polar bear-grizzly bear hybrid is brown-bodied, has long claws, and has a grizzly-like head. Another six hybrid bears were killed by hunters or live captured by scientists between 2012 and 2014. All six samples were taken and analyzed, confirming both their hybridity and familial ties based on genetic data.
Although it is hard to confirm, these events could be a sign of the deterioration of a species barrier. To date, all diagnosed cases have been linked back to a single polar bear’s abnormal mate choice.
How common are these hybrids in the wild?
Grizzlies are mostly found in Canada near the coast of the mainland, but in 1951 one was killed on Banks Island. In recent years, it has been more common for them to stray further north. For example, in 1991 seals and polar bears were documented being hunted by one or more grizzlies on the sea ice 500 kilometers from the mainland coast near Melville island.
The 2003-2004 geological team’s photographic and DNA evidence of a grizzly bear on Melville Island was inconclusive. Several other sightings in the area, however, helped to confirm its presence.
According to recent reports, grizzly bears are now venturing east across the Barren Grounds towards Hudson Bay. They’re also heading south into northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Between 2003-2008, seven sightings of these animals were reported in Wapusk National Park located south of Churchill, Manitoba – an area used frequently by polar bears as a maternity den and place of refuge during the months when there is no ice on Hudson Bay.
The hybrids displayed behavior that was more polar bear than grizzly. They stomped toys in a manner similar to how polar bears break ice. They also hurled bags to the side like polar bears can hurl prey. Grizzlies given the same items do not exhibit this tossing behavior. The hybrids were also observed relaxing as polar bears do: on their bellies with rear legs spread apart. Polar bears and grizzly bears in a German zoo did not have the polar bear’s natural swimming abilities.