The great bear rainforest in British Columbia is one of the largest coastal temperate rain forests in the world, with twenty five thousand square miles of mist shrouded fjords and densely forested islands that are home to white furred black bears.

Neither albino nor polar bear, these rare black bears (there are fewer than five hundred) are known as kermode bears, or what the gitga’at first nation call mooksgm’ol, the spirit bear — a word they did not speak to european fur traders lest the bears be discovered and hunted. to this day, it remains taboo to hunt a spirit bear, or to mention them to outsiders.

The white fur in these bears is triggered by a recessive mutation of the same gene associated with red hair and fair skin in humans. though it remains unclear as to how the trait arose (or disappeared), it is especially pronounced on certain islands.

Photography: Paul Nicklen | Fabrice Simon | Paul Burwell

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