The animal in the picture above is a black bear.
No, you’re not looking at the next gold and white dress debate. (Or was black and blue?)
Even though this guy looks a bit like a lost polar bear, he (or she) is a subspecies of the black bear. Black bears are common in the Smoky Mountains, but if you see a white one, know that it would be a one in a million chance.
This subspecies is called the Kermode bear. While most of the Kermode bears are still black, a small portion (estimated around 10%) of their population appears cream-colored.
Here are some fun facts about these white, furry anomalies:
1) The Kermode bears are generally only located in Canada, mostly in the Great Bear Rainforest
Some sources say they are exclusively in this region, but Bear.org reported that four white Kermode bears have been sighted outside of British Columbia. So if you did happen to see one, it would literally be considered one in a million, and you should call National Geographic – stat.
2) They are not albino
The pigmentation in their skin and eyes disqualifies them from this title. They are also not related to the polar bear. This light coloration is the result of a single recessive mutant gene.
3) They are very rare
According to Discover Wildlife, it’s estimated that there are fewer than 400 white Kermode bears on the planet. Other reports estimate there may be as many as 1,300 – but either way, seeing one is a special treat.
Why are they so rare? Both parents must carry the recessive mutant gene — and only an estimated 1 in 10 bears do.
Those seem like slim odds, but thanks to the phenomenon known as positive assortative mating, it’s speculated that white Kermode bears are more likely to breed with other white Kermode bears, and black Kermode bears breed more with black Kermode bears. This is hypothesized to do with cubs imprinting on their mothers.
4) They are excellent hunters
Most bears are considered to be good hunters – but it’s sometimes assumed that a white bear might “stand out” more to prey. However, these bears often prey on salmon and can blend in with a bright sky better than their black bear counterparts. One report indicated that white bears are about 35% more successful than black bears when fishing for salmon.
5) It’s illegal to kill one
This is true for most rare species, but unfortunately in some areas where they are indigenous, it is legal to kill the black bears, which could carry the rare gene. So, it’s still best to not hunt for any black bears if you hope to see more of them.
6) They are revered by Native American culture
Sometimes they are also called the spirit or ghost bear. According to legend, the spirit or ghost bear is a reminder of times past, specifically the white color of ice and snow
Okay, okay, you probably won’t find a white bear in the Smokies – but since you might see a “regular” black bear, brush up on these safety tips on what to do if you see one. And enjoy your trip to the Smokies.