GREAT BEAR RAINFOREST
WHAT SECRETS ARE CONCEALED IN NORTH AMERICA’S WILDLIFE WONDERLAND?
There he is now,” whispers Ian Mcallister in awe. The conservationist and nature photographer is pointing to a white dot in the low-hanging fog. The dot is a Kermode bear (Ursus americanus kermodei), one of the world’s rarest bear species. While most Kermode bears are black, between 100 and 500 of them are totally white. They are not albinos; they have pigmented skin and eyes. Their fur color results from a mutant recessive gene, so it takes two bears with the gene to make a white cub. Studies show one white bear is more likely to mate with another, possibly because cubs imprint on the color of their mother’s fur. Their habitat northwest of Vancouver is part of the Pacific Temperate Rainforest, the world’s largest such ecoregion. Great Bear alone is twice the size of Belgium. In addition to Kermode bears (commonly called spirit bears), it’s also home to grizzlies, cougars, wolves, and thousands of species of other mammals, birds, fish, and plants. The salmon streams provide plenty of food for bears, eagles, and orcas, and the forest is dotted with 1,000-year-old western cedars and nearly 300-foot-tall Sitka spruces. This natural paradise is one of the world’s wettest nontropical regions, and the shrouds of mist and veils of moss make it look like a land that existed before our time—the ideal domain for the elusive spirit bears.