Science & Environment

'Polar bear hybrid' shot in Canada

Polar bear in Toronto Zoo Image copyright AP
Image caption Global warming could increase the chances of polar bears (pictured) encountering grizzlies

A possible grizzly-polar bear hybrid has been shot by a hunter in northern Canada.

Scientists will have to wait on DNA tests to determine whether it is one of the rare crosses.

The two bears generally inhabit different ecological niches. But some experts suggest climate change and melting Arctic ice could increasingly bring them into contact.

The possible hybrid is said to possess physical features of both species.

The animal was shot by 25-year-old hunter Didji Ishalook in Nunavut, the country's biggest and northernmost territory.

"I think it's 99% sure that it's going to turn out to be a hybrid," Ian Stirling, an emeritus research scientist with Environment Canada, told the Toronto Star newspaper.

Hybrids are known either as a grolar or a pizzly, depending on whether the father is a grizzly or polar bear.

The finds have to be confirmed through genetic tests and are so rare that only a handful have been confirmed in the last decade.

Prof Andrew Derocher, from the University of Alberta, said that the bear did not appear to be an albino grizzly. But its claws appear to be longer and more "grizzly-like" than other hybrids that have been caught and examined.

"We haven't done the genetics on this and, until we do, we won't really be able to say anything conclusively," he told the Toronto Star.

"The unusual thing here is how did a male grizzly bear bump into a female polar bear... Most of the mating activity of polar bears is occurring out on the sea ice, so there's a spatial discontinuity between where a grizzly bear would be in the spring and where a polar bear would be in the spring."

Mixing between the two species probably happened thousands of years ago as ice sheets advanced and retreated.

Today, their interactions could receive a boost as climate change and melting Arctic ice force them into closer proximity.

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