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Climate Change in the Arctic Circle: The Birth of a New Bear

A polar bear

A polar bear

As climate change continues to shift the dynamics of our steadily warming planet, it’s not just weather patterns that will be changing. In the wild, animals too are being forced to adapt, and while the image of a sad polar bears on ice flows has become heavily associated with climate change, Grizzly and Brown bears too have been adapting to their changing habitat. While the polar bears are making their way south in search of food, brown bears are heading north. Their meeting has resulted in a brand new bear.


A grizzly bear

This grizzly-polar hybrid, affectionately known as the pizzly, prizzly, polizzy, nanulak, Polar-Grizz or Grolar Bear, had its first recorded natural occurrence in 2006 in the Northwest Territories of Canada. The genetic make-up of these two bears (with brown bears referring to either the Kodiak, Alaskan brown or grizzly bear) differs, polar bears are the most recent split from the brown bear line, diverging between 350,000-6 million years ago, which is relatively recently in evolutionary time. While normally such interbreeding results in sterile offspring such as the liger and the mule, the majority of prizzlies appear to be fertile. Given how recent this research is and the extreme difficultly of tracking cold-weather bears, there is little to no data on whether prizzlies mate with other prizzlies or with purebred grizzlies or purebred polar bears, however genetic tests have suggested that one wild prizzly was a second generation hybrid.


A prizzly bear

The prizzly isn’t the only result of global warming. Lynx and bobcats, wolves and coyotes and other similar but unique species have begun to mate as well. While it could take several generations for this “new” bear to evolve into a completely different species, this kind of occurrence may become more common as the changing climate forces more and more animals to adapt to their new environment.