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11 May 2006


Sachs Harbour (also called Ikaahuk, meaning "where you go across to"), the only settlement on Banks Island, had 135 residents in 1996. Local languages are Inuvialuktun and English, and the community belongs to the electoral district of Nunakput and to the land claim area of Inuvialuit.

Hunter Jim Martell, left, and others pose with the bear he shot on Banks Island in Canada's Northwest Territory. DNA tests later showed the bear had a polar bear for a mother and a grizzly bear for a father. (Canadian Wildlife Service via AP)

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Okay, well, this is screwy -- particularly the part about a guy who blew $50,000 (Canadian) to kill one of nature's most magnificent creatures. The traditional term for such a person is "sportsman."

I've seen polar bears in the wild. I took their photographs.

They could have tried to kill me, but they didn't. (They don't like the way we taste, so they wouldn't have eaten me.)

I thought it was a reasonable arrangement not to try to kill any of them. The particular town where all this happened, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada takes enormous pride in safeguarding all its people AND every one of its annual (October-November) parade of migrating adolescent male polar bears.

Now it turns out the sportsman didn't kill a polar bear. The sportsman killed a unique, one-of-a-kind hybrid bear that zoologists had previously believed was an impossibility in the wild.

Is there any place on Earth where sportsmen are extinct? As long as living creatures are becoming extinct all over the place, why not just once a place where all the sportsmen have vanished? That seems reasonable and fair.

But this happened on Banks Island in the Beaufort Sea. Something not screwy, something very serious is happening to polar bears in the Beaufort Sea right now. First it's happening to polar bears. Later (my nephew Ice Cube may be able to say how much later) it will happen to us. Head for high ground. If you missed it, Vleeptron didn't, it's here.

Vleeptron also highly recommends you rent and watch "Grizzly Man," a remarkable 2005 documentary written and directed by Werner Herzog, with a gorgeous music score by Richard Thompson.

It's about a guy who chose to live with grizzly bears. The guy had issues.

But his issues were nothing compared to this sportsman's issues. Until the sportsman gets some treatment, the great animals of the Earth are in danger.

* * *

Associated Press
Thursday 11 May 2006

Wild find:
Half grizzly,
half polar bear

Hunter bags what expert
'never thought would happen' in wild

IQALUIT, Nunavut -- Northern hunters, scientists and people with vivid imaginations have discussed the possibility for years.

But Roger Kuptana, a guide from Canada’s Sachs Harbor was the first to suspect it had actually happened when he proposed that a strange-looking bear shot last month by an American sports hunter might be half polar bear, half grizzly.

Officials seized the creature after noticing its white fur was scattered with brown patches and that it had the long claws and humped back of a grizzly. Now a DNA test has confirmed that it is indeed a hybrid -- possibly the first documented in the wild.

"We've known it's possible, but actually most of us never thought it would happen," said Ian Stirling, a polar bear biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Service in Edmonton.

Polar bears and grizzlies have been successfully paired in zoos before -- Stirling could not speculate why -- and their offspring are fertile.

Breeding seasons for the two species overlap, though polar bear gets started slightly earlier.

Polar bear and grizzly territory also overlap in the Western Arctic around the Beaufort Sea, where the occasional grizzly is known to head onto the sea ice looking for food after emerging from hibernation.

Grizzlies hunting seals?

Some grizzly bears make it over the ice all the way to Banks Island and Victoria Island, where they have been spotted and shot before. These bears will scavenge seals left over by polar bears.

"And some hunters have told me that they think sometimes the grizzly bears actually hunt seals, which I'm quite sure they could do," Stirling said.

That might explain how a grizzly got to the region, but few can explain how it managed to get along with a polar bear mate long enough to produce offspring.

Colin Adjun, a wildlife officer in Nunavut, said he's heard stories before about an oddly colored bear cavorting with polar bears. "It was a light chocolate color along with a couple of polar bears," Adjun said.

And though people have talked about the possibility of a mix, "it hasn't happened in our area," he said.

While the latest find is a surprise, it is not necessarily another sign of climate change, said John England, a geologist who was with the team that spotted the earlier grizzly.

"If we want evidence for climate change, we don't have to go to an isolated occurrence of a grizzly bear somewhere," said England, who holds a northern research chair on environmental change in the Arctic.

"The satellite imagery showing sea ice reduction over the last 30 years is proof positive of very dramatic changes in the northern hemisphere."

No fine for hunter

The DNA results were good news for Martell, who had paid [Canadian] $50,000 for guides and a permit to hunt polar bear. Before the tests came back, the 65-year-old hunter was facing the possibility of a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail for shooting a bear for which he had no permit -- as well as the disappointment of an expensive hunting trip with no trophy.

The local natural resources department now plans to return the bear to the hunter.

© 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

earlier stories ...

CBC North
Canadian Broadcasting Company
26 April 2006

Hunter may have
shot grolar bear --
or was it a pizzly?

An American sport hunter might end up in court after killing an odd-looking bear north of Sachs Harbour in the Northwest Territories.

Jim Martell was out hunting polar bear on the tundra near Sachs, 1150 kilometres north of Yellowknife, when his local guide spotted the animal.

"Well, the guide, he said 'shoot,' and he's a longtime guide there in Sachs Harbour and he knows what a polar bear is," said Martell, who had a permit for the hunt. "I'd seen other polar bears while I was hunting and he looked just like [one] to me.

"So I wouldn't have hesitated and I don't think any other hunter would have."

But now the outfitter says the animal might be a cross between a polar bear and a grizzly. The fur isn't bright white like a polar bear, or brown like a grizzly's. It's more a dirty blonde.

A wildlife officer confiscated the hide from Martell on Tuesday and the Department of Environment is taking a DNA sample. If it's a grizzly, Martell could be charged with illegal possession of wildlife because he didn't have a permit to hunt that type of bear.

Now facing a fine of $1,000 or a year in jail, Martell's not impressed.

"Y'know, I've spent $50,000 here. And -- to come back with nothing, I don't think that's fair," he said.

"But I have recourses I think, maybe. I'm not going to let it go."

Cross-species love?

Although grizzly bears have been known to travel to the Arctic islands, they generally stay on the mainland.

Ian Sterling, a research scientist who has been studying polar bears in the Beaufort Sea region for more than 30 years, says if the reports are true, the bear is unlike anything he's ever seen.

He said it's hard to say if the animal is the product of cross-species love.

"The probability of a grizzly and a polar bear actually mating is actually pretty low," he said. "Partly because polar bears mate on the sea ice and grizzly bears mate on the land."

The Department of Environment says it will keep the mysterious bear hide until the investigation is over.


UPI / United Press International
(now owned by News World, a division of the Unification Church)
27 April 2006

Hunter shoots mystery
blonde Arctic bear

SACHS HARBOR, Northwest Territories, Canada -- Investigators are trying to determine if a dirty blonde bear shot by a U.S. hunter in Arctic Canada is a polar bear, a grizzly or a cross between them.

Jim Martell had a permit to hunt polar bear when he went out with a guide in the Northwest Territories. He spotted the bear north of Sachs Harbor, about 900 miles north of Yellowknife, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

"Well, the guide, he said 'shoot', and he's a longtime guide there in Sachs Harbour and he knows what a polar bear is," said Martell.

If Martell's bear is a grizzly, he could be fined or even jailed for killing one without a permit.

While grizzlies and polar bears have mated in zoos and produced offspring, such match-ups are unlikely in the wild.

"The probability of a grizzly and a polar bear actually mating is actually pretty low, partly because polar bears mate on the sea ice and grizzly bears mate on the land," said Ian Sterling, a research scientist specializing in polar bears.

Sterling said the hide of Martell's bear is like nothing he has seen in 30 years of investigating the bear population in the Beaufort Sea.

Copyright © 2006 United Press International


Agence France-Presse
4 May 2006


Hunter Shoots Rare
Grizzly-Polar Bear
Cross In Canada

OTTAWA (AFP) -- A US hunter in Canada's far north may have killed the first Grizzly-Polar bear cross ever discovered in the wild, officials told AFP Wednesday. Jim Martell, 65, who paid 50,000 Canadian dollars (45,000 US dollars) to hunt Polar bears, shot the animal, described by local media as a "pizzly," a "grolar bear," or Martell's favorite, a "polargrizz" two weeks ago.

The Idaho native told The National Post: "Everybody thought it was a Polar bear, and then they started looking more and more and they seen other features that resembled some of a Grizzly as well."

The bear had thick, creamy white fur, typical of Polar bears, but its long claws, humped back and shallow face, as well as brown patches around its eyes, nose, back and on one foot are Grizzly traits.

Geneticists have linked the two species. They believe Grizzly bears ventured north some 250,000 years ago to hunt seals and that their fur turned white over time. Thus, the Polar bear was born.

Odd couples have produced mixed offspring in captivity. But, this is the first apparent discovery of a mixed breed in the wild, officials said.

The two species mate at different times of the year and inhabit vastly different regions -- one lives on Arctic ice floes, the other in forests.

But hunters have reported seeing grizzlies further north in recent years as the Arctic warms, said Andy Carpenter, mayor of Sachs Harbour, a tiny hamlet on Banks Island where the bear was shot.

"The only way they could get here is by walking across the ice," he said.

A laboratory in western Canada is expected to solve the mystery in a few weeks after examining a sample of the bear's DNA, said Judy McLinton, a spokeswoman for the Northwest Territories' environment and natural resources department in Yellowknife.

If it is found to be a Grizzly bear, Martell, whose hunting license only allowed him to shoot Polar bears, may be charged with shooting the wrong animal, officials said.


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