When he heard the news of a grizzly-polar bear hybrid shot in Canada’s Arctic last month, Tom Seaton thought back to an unusual polar bear hide he’d once seen at Nelson Walker’s home in Kotzebue.
“He had two polar bear rugs in his house – one was a huge one, and the other was special; it had lots of brown in it,” Seaton said. “It looked like a regular polar bear, but for every square inch of hide, 5 to 20 percent of the hairs were brown instead of white.”
Walker, who has since passed on, was a polar bear hunting guide in the village; Seaton was then a teenage hunter who loved to listen to Walker’s stories. He’s now a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks. Because he had heard that polar bears and brown bears had bred successfully in a zoo, Seaton was pretty sure Walker’s white-and-brown hide was from the mating of a polar bear and a brown bear.
That combination of large bears is so rare that DNA testing of the hybrid bear shot in 2006 off Banks Island in Canada’s high Arctic proved for the first time that a wild bear had a polar bear as its mother and a grizzly as its father. An Associated Press reporter wrote that the bear had brown patches on its white coat, long claws, and the humped back of a grizzly.