Spirit of the forest
The First Nations people of British Columbia (BC), Canada, have for centuries revered the spirit bear, or Kermode bear, to be found in the Great Bear Rainforest – a vast, old-growth temperate rainforest that runs up from southern BC to Alaska. The spirit bear is a rarity – a black bear with recessive genes that give it a creamy white coat. Its other name, ‘ghost bear’, reflects its elusiveness. Paul encountered this individual in September, at the height of the salmon run, when the bears are feasting on the fish bonanza and fattening up in preparation for hibernation and feasting on the fish bonanza. Spirit bears seem to prefer to escape the busy bear-fishing areas and wander into the forest to savour their meals in peace. ‘I followed this bear until it settled down to eat. I was crouched less than a metre away,’ says Paul, ‘but he acted as though I wasn’t there. It was really a dream come true, a dream I’d had since a kid, to walk through the forest with a bear.’ The Great Bear Rainforest is one of the largest unspoilt temperate rainforests left, and it’s the only place where spirit bears can be found. First Nations people are using the spirit bear as an ambassador animal in their campaign against a pipeline that will carry oil from Canada’s tar sands in Alberta down to the BC coast. The pipeline and associated infrastructure will destroy forest, but the greatest concern is the risk of an oil spill from a tanker entering the hazardous coastal channel to collect the oil – one spill could wipe out an entire coastal ecosystem.
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III + 16-35mm f2.8 lens; 1/50 sec at f2.8; ISO 800.
Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada
Paul Nicklen, Canada
A polar bear specialist and marine biologist, Paul grew up on Baffin Island among the Inuit people. From them he developed a love of nature, an understanding of ice ecosystems, and the survival skills that have made him an award winning nature photographer. Paul has contributed stories to National Geographic covering the slaughter of narwhals, salmon farming and the importance of polar ecosystems.