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In September 2004 I went in search of the rare, all white Spirit Bear off the Central Coast of British Columbia. I didn't have long to wait for my first encounter with this elusive spirit of the Great Bear Rainforest, and it was one that exceeded even my wildest dreams. On my first morning out with my Tsimshian guide and Wayne McCrory, a well known Canadian conservationist and bear biologist, we had just stepped ashore from our boat when an adult female with 2 black cubs emerged from the tree line on the opposite river bank. They soon melted away into their emerald green forest hideaway, only to reappear a short time later further upstream, swim across the river, and disappear again. My guides who were familiar with the bear's behaviour pattern predicted that she would double back around us, using the dense forest for cover, and the re-emerge about 200 yards/metres downstream of us, so we hunkered down behind a fallen tree to begin a patient vigil. Only a short time had passed when there was a sudden movement and sound of snapping twigs in the trees besides us, and all of a sudden the white bear emerged from the treeline in all her glory, only 30 yards away!

She seemed almost as surprised to see us, as we were to see her so close by, but after some initial hesitation she emerged into the open followed closely by her two black cubs, the products of a coupling with a male that clearly didn't carry the recessive gene that is required in both parents to produce a white cub, and both bundles or energy and mischief.


She paused in a patch of bright sunshine on the bank of a small stream that separated us, and while maintaining a careful vigil, she visibly relaxed and seemed to content to tolerate our presence, so much so that she allowed the cubs to wander off to play on a fallen log nearby.

In an incredible display of acceptance she eventually sat down of her haunches, facing us, as the cubs ran helter-skelter back and forth around her. To snatch even a momentary glimpse of a Spirit Bear is a privilege indeed, but to enjoy a prolonged close encounter with this magical animal is to be truly blessed. Six months later I still can't believe my good fortune to have seen what so few have seen before me, and I doubt I will ever see a photo opportunity the like of this again as long as I live.

        

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