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New pictures show how brown bears turn white ‘due to inbreeding’ on remote island

By The Siberian Times reporter
04 November 2019

Researchers in Kurils Nature Reserve confirm no less than 10% of the bear population has a distinctive silver coat.

This brown bear was nicknamed Snow White for the colour of her hair. Picture: Artur Murtazanov

New pictures from the Kiril Islands on Russia’s Pacific coast show the phenomenon, and you need to look twice at some of the beasts to realise they are not polar bears. 

These images from Kunashir island - the most southerly of the archipelago - show brown bears from the local population of around 160 wild animals, of which half are in the reserve. 

One large female, pictured by Artur Murzahanov is known as Snow White. 

Artur Murzahanov, deputy director of Roszapovedcenter, an agency within Russia’s ministry for natural resources for development of reserves, said: ’There are white and light coloured animals and this is a common phenomena in all groups of animals.

‘Obviously, they become an easy target without protective colouring and their life expectancy in the wild is low.

‘But the Kuril bears stand out. About 10% of bears have a silver coat and they live freely.

‘Bears don’t have any enemies there apart from humans, so the mutation that caused such colouring remains in the population.’ 

New pictures show how brown bears turn white ‘due to inbreeding’ on remote island 


New pictures show how brown bears turn white ‘due to inbreeding’ on remote island 


New pictures show how brown bears turn white ‘due to inbreeding’ on remote island 
The popular is isolated from Russia’s other brown bear population. Pictures: Artur Murtazanov


A similar trend is visible on Iturup island as well as Shumshu and Paramushir. 

At this time of year the bears gather in salmon spawning grounds and are easily seen. 

The predators  here are cut off from other brown bear populations in Russia, for example on the Kamchatka peninsula to the north, and appear to be evolving in a different way to mainland beasts.

Arctic expert Viktor Nikiforov who has examined the species on Kunashir, said: ‘The brown bears have started to resemble polar bears in terms of colour - because of inbreeding.

‘Kunashir is a relatively small island for brown bears - with no new bears coming.’

New pictures show how brown bears turn white ‘due to inbreeding’ on remote island 


New pictures show how brown bears turn white ‘due to inbreeding’ on remote island 


New pictures show how brown bears turn white ‘due to inbreeding’ on remote island 
Snow White with her cub. Pictures: Artur Murtazanov, Kurilsky Nature Reserve


Professor emeritus Noriyuki Ohtaishi, of Hokkaido University in Japan, has also suggested that the change of colouring is likely the result of  isolation and mutation. 

The colour range is wider - from almost black to silver as if the species cannot decide what is right for them.

It tends to be the upper part of the bear body that turns while or silver, more than the lower parts.

Igor Bobyr, a state inspector at reserve, said researchers from mainland Russia have concluded the ‘white bears’ are ‘a lot less aggressive’ than other populations of the animals. 

The Kuril bears have a ready supply of salmon in island rivers and no predators apart from poachers.

It is believed that the Japanese - who earlier controlled these islands - may have introduced brown bears to the Kurils.

The popular is isolated from Russia’s other brown bear populations. 

New pictures show how brown bears turn white ‘due to inbreeding’ on remote island. Pictures: Artur Murtazanov, Kurilsky Nature Reserve

New pictures show how brown bears turn white ‘due to inbreeding’ on remote island 


New pictures show how brown bears turn white ‘due to inbreeding’ on remote island 


New pictures show how brown bears turn white ‘due to inbreeding’ on remote island 

Comments (4)

So beautiful, I hope they remain protected and safe from poachers......precious animals.
Jane Shelby, Bozeman, Montana USA
09/11/2019 09:15
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Jocelyn, you're spot on with your comments and observations. It's always refreshing to come to Siberian Times to get a glimpse of the culture and wonderful wild life of beautiful Siberia, from Lake Baikal (shimmering mother of pearl, noted elsewhere here in ST) to the Amur to Kamchatka. Cheers.
Chad Hammond, United States
07/11/2019 09:19
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Proof Bears are not racist! We have Polar Bears cross breeding with the Coastal Grizzlies and Black bears here too. Might get our own Panda's here soon! Ha ha
I can Bearly wait
Brett, Kotzebue, Alaska USA
06/11/2019 02:42
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Wonderful wild life ...Oh so happy....Sylvain Tesson wins important literary prize in France :" Prix Renaudot"- this day for his novel "la panthère des neiges = the snow leopard" !!...I love this writer who also wrote "in the Siberian forests" (near Baïkal lake)....days flow slowly but never bore, . there are so many little things to do and FEEL... !
Jocelyne, FRANCE
04/11/2019 18:18
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