The cuddly creatures in the above image are called Grolar or (as I prefer) Pizzly bears. They are the hybrid offspring of a Polar and a Grizzly bear and these two can be found in Osnabrück zoo in Germany. For visitors to the zoo these bears are perhaps a quirky curiosity, but similar bears have been found in the wild and this presents a real problem to Arctic conservation.
The first Pizzly bear found in the wild was shot by hunters in the Arctic. More recently, in 2010, another hybrid bear was shot in the western Canadian Arctic, this bear was different, however, as it was a second generation hybrid which had a Pizzly bear mother and a Grizzly bear father. As the Arctic sea ice retreats through the effects of climate change, Grizzly bears are able to move further North than ever before and they are coming into ever-increasing contact with Polar bears.
Polar bears are just one of a number of Arctic species that have recently been found to have hybrids and, if this continues, it could be very bad news for biodiversity. While some hybridisation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, many species may become extinct through loss of genetic diversity and hybrids may not produce viable offspring. The mixing of traits from different species may also be detrimental as hybrids become ill-adapted to the environments of both parent species; for example, the Pizzly bears at Osnabrück zoo exhibit seal hunting behaviour (like Polar bears) but, like Grizzly bears, do not appear to be strong swimmers, meaning that they might find hunting difficult in the wild. Arctic species like the Polar bear may be lost through hybridisation with other species as the climate changes and previously separated species come into contact. It is unknown exactly what effect this will have, but it is important to monitor all of the species involved.