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A bear snatching a leaping salmon out of a roaring river is one of the most powerful scenes in the Canadian wilderness. The remote coastal forests of British Columbia boast one species of bear unique from all others: the rare kermode subspecies of black bear. Its rare color mutation gives it a startling white pelt, which inspired the name “ghost” or “spirit bear” among the First Nations peoples of the Pacific Northwest.
This unique species inspired Royal Canadian Mint’s 2020 1/4 oz coin (as well as a 1 1/2 oz silver coin with the same design). A close look at the reverse will show just how much are and attention went into the design of this coin… the sheer variety of textures, from the snow to the salmon’s fins to the ripples on the bear’s fur – all captured in exquisite detail!
This coin is truly a joy to behold, an absolute masterpiece of numismatic art you can hold in your hand.
Roughly ten percent of Kermode bears are white. They are not albino since their nose, eyes, lips and paws remain dark. Their white fur is caused by a recessive gene, one that must be present in both parents to be expressed. Studies suggest that white spirit bears actually catch more fish because their light-coloured fur is less visible against the sky. Because bears rely on delicious salmon to fatten up before winter hibernation, they carry salmon deep into the forest where other animals can feed on the carcasses before the marine nutrients are absorbed into the ground and ultimately taken up by the trees. This is just one way that an apex predator like the ghost bear supports an entire ecosystem’s health without even trying…
First Nations peoples have shared Canada’s rainforest islands with spirit bears for thousands of years. They always believed these bears were special. Some even thought the bears had supernatural powers. According to native legends, spirit bears could swim deep underwater and lead people to magical places. Legend also has it that Raven, the Creator, made every tenth black bear on one island white as a reminder of the last ice age, which was 10,000 years ago.
Spirit bears are so much a part of the British Columbia wilderness that the Gitga’at First Nation absolutely forbids discussion of the moksgm’ol, or spirit bear. Since the 1800s, Indigenous peoples learned to keep the bears with ghostly coats a secret to protect them from fur traders.
Scientists estimate there are at most 250 spirit bears left in the wild – which is why this spirit bear gold coin, a way to see your very own spirit bear any time you want, is a good idea. Unless you like the idea of a walkabout through the bear-haunted Pacific Coast rainforests of British Columbia, that is…
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