The Spirit Bear: the rare "blonde" black bear of Canada's western coast

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Last updated at 3:24 PM on 15th July 2009

Spotted: The Spirit Bear, a 'blonde' subspecies of the black bear

It may look like a polar bear that has ventured too far south - but these once-in-a-lifetime photographs are of the extremely rare Spirit Bear.

Once thought to exist only in Native American mythology, the Spirit Bear, or Kermode Bear, is now recognized as an off-shoot of the American Black Bear population that lives in the lush coastal forests of British Columbia.

The blonde Kermode Bear - a mother - goes fishing with her cub, a black bear

Amongst wildlife photographers it is considered rare if not virtually impossible to photograph one of these blonde, or white black bears, due to their scarcity. One such photographer was Steve Kozlowski, who traveled along Canada's wild Pacific coast to catch a glimpse of these legendary beasts.

'I set out to travel to the last area where a small population of Spirit Bears is known to exist near Princess Royal Island on the British Columbia coastline,' says Steve, 39, who has been photographing wildlife for the past 18 years.

'After convincing the tour group I was traveling with to drop me off in a remote area, I set up my tent near a stream where I thought the bears might feed.

'Over the course of five days I caught only fleeting glimpses of them. Losing faith, on the fifth evening Steve had a terrifying encounter with one bear. 'I emerged from my tent and was confronted with a Spirit Bear,' explains Steve.

'The bear was startled and it charged at me over a log, its hair up, ears back, snapping its jaws. 'I slowly backed away and it eventually left.'

Unperturbed by his close call, Steve believed that this was his chance to photograph the bear in its natural environment.

'I built a camera blind and kept hidden so that the bear became more comfortable with me as I kept a safe distance,' he said.
'To observe the bear in the wild was a pleasure.'

Explaining that the Spirit Bear is not albino as many people would first think, Steve says that it is as near to blonde as a bear will ever get.
'Very few people have even seen one of these bears,' says Steve.

'Nearly 60 per cent of the world's coastal temperate rainforests have been logged or developed. The Spirit Bear's habitat represents one-quarter of what remains.

'It is essential that we put in place moves to protect these extraordinary animals.'

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