Two Alberta hikers were treated to a rare sight Sunday afternoon in Kananaskis Country: a white-phase black bear crossing the road in front of their car.
“A vehicle passed by us in the opposite direction, raising a cloud of dust,” Katie Scott told Global News. “As it began to clear, we saw something white about 100 metres ahead, beginning to cross the road from the right-hand side. We immediately slowed to a stop and watched from a distance as this beautiful white bear ambled across the gravel road and paused on the opposite side.
“To see a bear in the wild is so special at any time, but because of her colour, we were totally shocked!”
Scott said she and her friend continued to drive very slowly and paused beside her, when Scott was able to snap three quick photos from the passenger seat.
The pair drove on, concerned a mother bear may be near.
Alberta Parks facility planner Sarah Elmeligi said her department is aware of the white-phase black bear living in Kananaskis.
“Black bears can be any colour, ranging from very light blonde to very dark black, and so this is just a colour variation that we see,” Elmeligi said. “It is a little bit more on the rare side but it’s kind of like how not all cats are tabbies. Not all cats are orange, they have a lot of variation in colour and bears can have quite a lot of variation in colour, too.
“It’s not a new species or a sub species or a weird genetic mutation; it’s just a very light-coloured black bear.”
Alberta Parks’ ecology team first observed the bear when it was a cub still with its mother. Elmeligi said the mother and a sibling are both pure black; the white-phase bear is around three or four years old.
Watch below: Alberta Parks spokesperson Sarah Elmeligi explains why the location of a seldom-seen white-phase black bear that’s lived in Kananaskis Country for the last few years isn’t being released
The department doesn’t release specific locations of where bears are seen in K-Country in order to minimize risk and avoid thousands flocking to take photos.
“If you run into her by chance, then it’s your lucky day and you can take a picture,” Elmeligi said. “If you’re more than 100 metres away, you’re probably at a safe distance and can capture it on your photo device and go home and tell your friends a great story about how you saw a white-phase black bear in K-Country.”
Elmeligi emphasized the importance of bear safety when in Kananaskis Country or the national parks — especially with more people on the trails for Canada 150.
“It is really important that people obey closures when they are in existence,” she said. “Those closures are put into place to keep bears and people safe and it’s also really important that people take all the regular bear aware precautions: carrying bear spray, travelling in groups, keeping dogs on leash.
“All of those things help to reduce the stress that a bear might feel if there are people in the area and help to reduce the chance of a negative encounter.”