When we think of Canadian bears, the mind turns immediately the Grizzlies. The ill-fated NBA team might have helped, but Grizzlies are iconic of Canada for many more reasons. Their proximity to civilization means they wander into towns and cities much more frequently, and their enormous bulk can frighten even the hardiest of wildlife lovers. As a result, the noble Grizzly, despite being one of Canada’s most recognizably native beasts, enjoys far less tourist attention than its nomadic cousins to the North.
Knight Inlet is a hotspot of Grizzly activity, just a few hours North of Vancouver, British Columbia. This popular wildlife destination has one of the world’s densest Grizzly populations, and more importantly it has teams of experienced tour guides who know how to find the animals quickly and safely. Several tour companies offer an packages ranging from one to seven nights with day-trips or camping expeditions spent mostly on boats and large rafts. Sliding along the Inlet’s calm waters, some travellers are content to see the bears from afar, while others have the urge to get up close for an intimate look into the animal’s everyday life. Different tours offer a variety of such experiences, but should never get close enough to evoke the bear’s interest – ecotourism in British Columbia are under both provincial and federal regulation to protect travellers and wildlife.
Grizzlies aren’t the only prized bears in British Columbia’s wildlife reserves, however. Possibly more exciting to the ‘grizzled’ wildlife chaser is the Kermode bear, or Spirit Bear. These are actually black bears which have inherited a recessive gene which stops pigment from reaching the fur, much like that which creates yellow Labrador retrievers. These ‘black’ bears are often pure white, making them look strikingly like their polar cousins, despite living in very different habitat. Kermode Bears are far more skittish than the devil-may-care snow bears, however, and cohabitate with Grizzlies in Knight Inlet and elsewhere. They live exclusively in British Columbia, and primarily on the islands that line the province’s Western coast.
Today, there are fewer than 500 Kermode bears left in the wild – and there is little understanding of what drives different portions of the Black Bear population to be born with the Kermode mutation. As a result, many tour groups donate to conservation and research efforts aimed at understanding this enigmatic natural treasure. The bear has understandably become the centre of many local and international myths. In Aboriginal culture, the spirit bear is said to have special powers, and is given special respect.
Bear tourism is a big part of British Columbian tourism, and often focuses on finding a single subspecies. Local guides become experts in the habits of their charges, providing a truly personalized experience following some of the wildest animals left in the world. Spirit Bear Lodge specializes in finding the Kermode bear, the enigmatic prize in their safari.
Have you ever gone on a grizzly safari?
Let us know - comment below. Or better yet, tweet us!
Related content on Canadian Traveller