Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wild at Heart: The Spirit Bear

Over the next few days, I will be bringing you previews of the work that will be exhibited this Saturday, May 26th at "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Kelly Vivanco "Royal Spirit Bear"

The Spirit Bear or Kermode Bear is a subspecies of American black bear that is native to a small area of rainforest along the coast and islands of British Columbia. It eats green plants, berries and salmon, and hibernates inside giant hollow trees. About 10% of the spirit bear population sports a cream-colored coat, resulting from a recessive allele in their genetics, rather than a tendency to albinism. Its white coat, which was beneficial during the glacial era, allows spirit bears to be nearly invisible to salmon in the daytime, making them very efficient salmon hunters.

Many believe the spirit bear owes its continued existence to the First Nations, especially the Tsimshian tribe, who have long revered the bear and refused to hunt it or speak of it to fur trappers. In fact, the bear was considered to be mere legend by settlers until its existence was confirmed by a crusading naturalist in 1905. The Tsimshian call the spirit bear Moksgm’ol, or “Spirit of the Rain Forest,” and believe that Raven, who created the world, made the spirit bear white to remind the people of the era of ice that came before, giving the bear the power to guide chosen people to special places and promising that spirit bears would live in peace and harmony forever. Due to the isolation of its habitat, the spirit bear has no instinctive fear of humans, which leaves it vulnerable to poachers, and its population may already be reduced to between 400 and 1,000 individuals. Its continued existence now faces an even greater threat — the Enbridge Northern Gateway, a tar sands pipeline which is proposed to cut through the Great Bear Rainforest, one of the largest remaining tracts of unspoiled temperate rainforest left in the world, and the spirit bear’s only habitat.

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