The White Grizzlies of Kananaskis
My dad has many, many skills, but wildlife spotting isn’t one of them.
Yet when my family made our third trip to Kananaskis Country, my dear old dad had the spot of a lifetime.
While driving, he somehow glanced out his side window and spotted a grizzly bear about, I don’t know, a few kilometres up the side of a mountain on Highwood Pass.
Did I mention he was driving?
What was even more remarkable was that after we pulled off the highway and put up our spotting scope, he found another grizzly on the same mountain, about a half kilometre to the north.
Why, when watching one beautiful grizzly, you’d think to look for another, I don’t know. We were, however, thankful he did.
You see, the year before we had spotted a grizzly sow with two cubs in the same area. Amongst the most beautiful bears we’ve ever seen, we were lucky enough to watch them for hours through our scope.
What made the cubs so unique was that they appeared to be white grizzlies.
While not like our namesake the ghost or spirit bear, there are grizzly bears in the Rocky Mountains of Canada that are referred to as white grizzlies. They look like Siamese cats with off-white fur and black leggings. Goat Range Provincial Park in BC was created, in fact, to protect these bruins.
Of course, as cubs, grizzlies can appear lighter, so we weren’t certain they were true white grizzly bears.
But now, with my dad’s jaw-dropping spot, we had the cubs again, though this time making it on their own as sub-adults. And sure enough, to my eyes, they were indeed white grizzlies.
As we watched, the two bears slowly started walking toward one another and when they got within a hundred yards of one another, they stopped and stared.
What happened next was a moment that, for me, demonstrates that animals have a soul.
The bears ran toward one another with something that can only be described as pure excitement.
They greeted each other. Played. Nose-kissed. Wrestled.
They looked like they had just found their long lost sibling. Which they had.
Eventually the bears walked down the mountain, said their goodbyes with a bit of play fighting and crossed the road, leaving in different directions.
A year later an almost identical sighting transpired – complete with another stunning spot by my dad (seriously, he usually can’t find the animal that is 30 feet away) – as we watched the siblings reconnect and play.
And for years, every time we went through Highwood Pass, we would find these beautiful, happy bears.
Eventually, Kananaskis enacted a bear management policy that began robbing the bears of their joy without making them safer and we started visiting the pass less and less. And with our absence, we lost the chance to continue documenting the bear family.
But two years ago, when Jill and I made our way through K-Country, we, to my amazement, found both siblings.
While the two bears didn’t meet up, each put on a great show.
The sow had a yearling cub who clearly shares the “white” coat genes…
…and she was as beautiful as ever, even with ear tags.
The boar certainly gave us a start while we were capturing shots of a different grizzly sow and cub-of-the-year, but he too hasn’t changed much over the years.
More than ten years after my dad first found the white grizzlies of Kananaskis, it’s wonderful to know they continue to roam the wilds of Highwood Pass.
Tags: alberta, grizzly bears, highwood pass, kananaskis, nature, nikon, outdoors, peter lougheed provincial park, photography, simon jackson, white grizzlies, wilderness, wildlife