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‘I’m not extinct yet’ - intrepid foreign tourists spot rare blond bear scientists feared had died out decades ago

By The Siberian Times reporter
23 June 2018

Unique pictures taken this month show the Sailugem bear, proving both that this species was not mythical - and has survived - in the Altai Mountains.

As the travel company say, their tourists saw ‘almost a ghost’. Picture: Kaichi Travel

It’s an unusual pleasure for us to bring you this report of the survival of the legendary Sailugem - aka Saylugemsky - bear. 

We are indebted one of Siberia’s top tour companies - Kaichi Travel -  for these amazing and heart-warming pictures. 

On a recent trip they proved something experts strongly suspected but dared not commit to scientific journals.

Looking for rare birds of prey and argali mountain sheep, the tourists found a prize on an altogether different scale.

As the travel company say, their tourists saw ‘almost a ghost’ - because there have been doubters that these animals ever existed, while others were convinced that they had long vanished from our planet.

Saylyugem bear

Saylyugem bear

Saylyugem bear

We are indebted one of Siberia’s top tour companies - Kaichi Travel -  for these amazing and heart-warming pictures. Pictures: Kaichi Travel

Three years ago we carried a report suggesting that there was evidence for the survival of these blond bears

At the time we reported that scientists had discovered dens, holes and paw prints of this creature, probably a little-studied subspecies of the brown bear. 

But there had been no confirmed sightings for decades. 

A camera trap image the following year - the video is here -  appeared to show a cub from this species, although the colouring was darker.

The cub was quickly named Sayli yet the adult that must have been with it was not captured on camera.

A camera trap image the following year appeared to show a cub from this species, although the colouring was darker.

So the sighting by tourists and their guides represents the first confirmed modern picture of the bear seen by humans, and resembles old artistic impressions of the creature.

As reported:

‘An absolutely incredible event took place in our June trip. 

‘We met a wild bear, and not a common brown bear but almost a ghost – the Sailugem bear.’

Saylyugem bear

Traces found of bear thought to have died out decades ago

Rare archive photo of allegedly Saylyugem bear. Footprints of the bear found in 2015. Pictures: Igor Ivanitsky, Saylyugem National Park 

The foreign tourists were looking for wild birds. 

‘We noticed almost 15 birds of prey flying in the sky, including a rare guest in the park, a juvenile Himalayan vulture.’

The group was in the Saylyugem National Park, on the Russian side of a major international intersection with three other countries at so-called ‘Point X’ - Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan.

The park was set up almost a decade ago to protect the argali and snow leopards, but it may have helped another species - or subspecies - come back from the grave.



Area where the bear was spotted

Area where the bear was spotted

The foreign tourists were looking for wild birds. Pictures: Kaichi Travel

‘Suddenly (guides) Erkin and Alexander waved at us, we should be quiet and follow them, downhill, down a very steep hill actually.

‘Only much later when we climbed back up (did) we notice how steep.

‘We expected to see sitting vultures or argali but Alexander whispered it was a bear. 

‘When we arrived at a flat rock, we noticed the leg of a big fluffy animal some 60-70 metres below us. 

‘Soon it showed itself completely, and to our surprise, it was a real Sailugem bear, blond and very beautiful. 

‘It walked around a bit and we were happy we could make some pictures and video as evidence, just to show the world the Sailugem bear really exists.’

Picture of the bear

Scientists doubted it still existed. Picture: drawing from the Altai Red Book of Endangered Species

The tourists were 'really excited and impressed at that moment’ and knew they had seen something ’very special’.

As the travel company stated, there is no modern evidence on this species. 

Some experts say it was extinct, and others denied it ever existed. 

‘Some scientists consider bears living in the area of Sailugem range as a subspecies of (the) brown bear, others completely deny its existence.’

Others say it is the Tian Shan bear.

As the travel company say: ‘Now it is up to the scientists to find out if this is a subspecies of the brown bear, or a species of its own. 

‘We are very curious of course and hope our pictures will help to determine it.'

Comments (6)

Grizzly bears of this colouration - dirty blond, dark legs, dark ears or the whole head - are not uncommon on the drier eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains in Canada. Black bears too are often pale coloured - blond or various shades of brown - where the climate is drier. It seems the genes that favour pale colouration express themselves more freely when such colouration is advantageous, or at least not disadvantageous, to the animal.
Ian, Calgary, Canada
04/07/2018 09:52
Well, they say...blonde bears have more fun.
Doc, US
04/07/2018 18:37
One treasure of Siberia. Please protect him and others in this beautiful region.
Jocelyne, FRANCE
29/06/2018 19:53
I do propose not only to take pictures( what is good) but to ask Russian scientists Prof Ovjenikov/Pahzetnov and others to do real reseacrh. Colelcting scats- hairsamples and even when possible dead corpses to make DNA analyses. This can give direct information on the species. It may be a genetic deformation as seen in the brown bears in USA- being the sacred bears for the Inuits. Cerayinly when within litter there is a variant of colors- this may indicate a gene variation
gerard baars - international bear Foundation, the Netherlands
26/06/2018 23:56
just di not, not now or ever, give the location where the bear is roaming. some idiot poacher for sure will come and think he can make big bucks with a white bear skin.
Benedikt MORAK, Moscow
24/06/2018 19:05
It's a yeti.
Linkovich Chomovsky, Christmas Island
24/06/2018 00:56

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