Polar bear plus Grizzly equals?
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Posted 04 November 2009 - 08:17 AM
What do you get if you cross a polar bear with a grizzly brown bear? Scientists can now answer the question, following the first study of a polar bear/grizzly bear hybrid.
Only one hybrid bear has ever been seen in the wild, so the study evaluated two hybrid bears kept in captivity, which are among 17 such bears known to exist.
While each hybrid has inherited characteristics from either parent, some traits, such as partially hollow hair, appear to be a blend of the two.
"Hybrids between polar and brown bears in the wild are very rare. Only one confirmed case is known," says Dr Ute Magiera, the conservation coordinator of Osnabruck Zoo in Germany.
That hybrid bear was shot in April 2006 by an American big game hunter on Banks Island, Northwest Territories, Canada.
However, a small number of hybrid bears do exist in zoos in the Czech Republic, Israel, Russia, Spain, Poland and Germany as a result of grizzly bears, a subspecies of brown bear, and polar bears being held in the same enclosures.
At Osnabruck Zoo, for example, both species were kept together since 1980, producing no offspring. Then in January 2004, a female brown bear gave birth to two brown/polar bear hybrids at the zoo.
"We were surprised about the offspring, because for 24 years nothing happened," says Dr Magiera.
Soon after their birth, the hybrids were moved to another zoo, preventing them from learning any behaviours from either parent.
Now Dr Magiera, Dr Alexandra Preuß of the University of Osnabruck and Osnabruck Zoo and colleagues have published details of the hybrid bears in the scientific journal Der Zoologische Garten. Physically, the hybrids have a range of characteristics.
In terms of overall size, they fall between the larger polar bear and slightly smaller grizzly. They have longer necks more typical of polar bears, but also display small shoulder humps reminiscent of brown bears.
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