‘Albino Brown Bear’ Airlifted to Arctic After Being Mistaken for Polar Bear?

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Claim:

An albino grizzly bear was sent to the Arctic multiple times after being mistaken for a polar bear.

Internet users have dubbed him the “unluckiest bear in the world,” making Joey, a bear with unusual coloring, the stuff of online urban legend. As the story goes, this “albino brown bear” (sometimes described as an “albino grizzly bear,” depending on the source) was airlifted to the Arctic time and time again after being mistaken for a polar bear. 

Snopes determined that online posts making this claim about an albino bear date back to at least 2021, with a recent iteration of it resurfacing almost every year since, and again in 2024. One example includes the below video shared to TikTok on April 29, 2023, which had amassed more than 4.2 million views at the time of this publication. 

Snopes did not find any credible reports to corroborate the tale, though. Furthermore, wildlife expert Geoff York, the senior director of research and policy at Polar Bears International, a nonprofit polar bear conservation organization, told us this story likely “originated as a spoof.”

Why? For one thing, the light-phase bear (“phase” refers to color variations in bears) shown in the video is “clearly not a polar bear,” York said. 

According to the wildlife educational facility North American Bear Center, black bears can appear in more colors than any other North American mammals, from black and brown to cinnamon, blond, blue-gray or even white. East of the Great Plains, nearly all black bear (Ursus americanus) individuals are black. 

“The melanin in black fur makes the fur resistant to abrasion in the brushy understory of eastern forests,” writes the organization. But in western states with mountain meadows, over half of the black bears are brown, cinnamon or blond. 

“Light-colored fur reduces heat stress in open sunlight and allows the bears to feed longer in open, food-rich habitats. The lighter-colored fur may also camouflage them from predators in those open areas,” adds the North American Bear Center. 

Similarly, brown or grizzly bears may also exhibit a wide variety of hair coloration, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Coat coloring is determined by genetics, which some experts speculate could have led to white-colored brown bears. (This is not the same as albinism, a condition in which the absence of melanin in the body results in white skin and hair.)

Another strike against the “mistaken for a polar bear” tale is the fact that relocating a bear from North America to the Arctic would be an effort requiring unrealistic international coordination and resources. 

“Broadly speaking, animal welfare groups do not engage in relocation efforts and typically lack the management authority and funding necessary to capture and transport animals nationally, let alone across international borders,” explained York. 

“As we all understand, transporting a bear the distances mentioned would be dramatically expensive and require international collaboration — the likes of which we have not seen for some time. Having been to the North Pole, I can also say it is among the last places you would attempt to re-home anything.”

 

 

Sources

Animal Doozy. The Unluckiest Bear in the World! #animal #unlukybear  #fact. 2023. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbbwYQ9xXzw.

Belvedier0609. “His Is Joe, the Albino Brown Bear, Every Time He Is Seen in the Forest He Is Rescued and Woken up at the North Pole.” iFunny, https://ifunny.co/picture/his-is-joe-the-albino-brown-bear-every-time-he-BHEP7yjM8. Accessed 3 July 2024.

“Black Bear Color Phases.” North American Bear Center, https://bear.org/bear-facts/black-bear-color-phases/. Accessed 3 July 2024.

dfg.webmaster@alaska.gov. White Black Bears and Blonde Grizzlies, Alaska Department of Fish and Game. https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=wildlifenews.view_article&articles_id=314. Accessed 3 July 2024.

Meet Our Team | Polar Bears International. https://polarbearsinternational.org/what-we-do/our-team/#geoffyork. Accessed 3 July 2024.

Polar Bears International. https://polarbearsinternational.org/. Accessed 3 July 2024.

TikTok – Make Your Day. https://www.tiktok.com/@xtv.news/video/7227495775083695403?lang=en. Accessed 3 July 2024.

“‘Unluckiest Bear in the World’: Albino Grizzly Bear Mistaken for a Polar Bear Sent to the Arctic 5 Times!” The Times of India, 3 July 2024. The Economic Times – The Times of India, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/etimes/trending/unluckiest-bear-in-the-world-albino-grizzly-bear-mistaken-for-a-polar-bear-sent-to-the-arctic-5-times/articleshow/111425496.cms.

“—.” The Times of India, 3 July 2024. The Economic Times – The Times of India, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/etimes/trending/unluckiest-bear-in-the-world-albino-grizzly-bear-mistaken-for-a-polar-bear-sent-to-the-arctic-5-times/articleshow/111425496.cms.

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