Pizzly / Post by Katie Billing of Polar Bears International
You may have heard of ligers and labradoodles, but have you ever heard of a pizzly? A pizzly is a hybrid animal, meaning that both parents are of different species. As the name sounds, a pizzly is the inbred product of polar bears and grizzly bears. (Sometimes they are known as grolar bears.) These unique hybrids were spotted April 23, 2012 by two biologists from the University of Alberta.
Jodie Pongracz and Evan Richardson were on a trip in Viscount Melville Sound in the High Arctic of Canada with expectations to satellite-collar polar bears (Struzik, 2012). What they spotted in Wynniatt Bay was a pizzly! This hybrid is unusual because it has occurred in nature. Labradoodles and other dog hybrids are bred through artificial selection. The pizzly exists today because grizzly bears have been venturing up to the Northern Arctic due to climate change.
Grizzly bears are not the only animals moving north. Several other species have been spotted including fish species, caribou, and red foxes! (Erica and I spotted both red and arctic foxes in Churchill!) Some people think that pizzlies/grolar bears are a good solution for climate change. Pennsylvania State and University of Buffalo have sequenced polar bear genomes and found that brown bears helped create polar bears to begin with. They predict that the inbreeding occurring now is caused due to the polar bear’s shrinking habitat. The unfortunate people who find climate change undisturbing are thankful to hear this news and deem it the perfect solution. However, polar bear experts see problems facing the new hybrids.
Ed Struzik in Yale’s Environment 360 Digest quoted Andrew Derocher, one of the top polar bear researchers. Derocher mentioned in the article the diversity between grizzly bears and polar bears in terms of ecology and physiology. He stated that, “ While they may closely resemble each other physically and genetically, they have evolved in very different ways. Grizzlies, for example, have learned to live off a variety of foods such as caribou, berries, roots, and even seals. The polar bear, on the other hand, is almost exclusively a hunter of seals” (Struzik, 2012). Not a lot of research has been conducted on these new species and there is no knowing if they are the saviors of the polar bear species. What is known is that they can’t be relied upon. In addition, there are currently no regulations or restrictions on the hunting of pizzlies. Derocher mentions, “…Bear hunters would pay dearly for the chance to shoot (hybrid polar/grizzly bears). That could mean that hybrids - not subject to the strict hunting quotas governing the threatened polar bear - could face heavy hunting pressure” (Struzik, 2012).
The polar bear’s sea ice habitat is diminishing with the warming climate. Scientists now know that polar bears are taking drastic measures to keep their species alive by mating with grizzly bears and producing offspring. In a presentation given by Dr. Evan Richardson, a wildlife biologist from the Canadian Wildlife Service, he mentioned that a female polar bear mated with a male grizzly and produced a female pizzly. That female pizzly mated with a male polar bear and produced a cub. This data shows that these hybrids are not sterile. This gives some hope on the genetics side of things; however hybrids are not the solution to climate change, nor will they ever be as breathtaking as the 100% pure bred polar bear.