Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer

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January 18, 2007
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Rare hybrid bear coming to Reno hunting show

GLENNS FERRY, Idaho (AP) - Jim Martell has been hunting since age 8 and has dozens of trophies, including two 10-foot-tall brown bears from Russia, a wallaby from New Zealand and two ibexes from Kyrgyzstan.

But his most exotic yet is the world's only recorded incidence of a wild polar bear-grizzly crossbreed.

Martell, 66, shot the hybrid that scientists have dubbed a "pizzly" this spring, sending shockwaves through the scientific community. The now-stuffed bear took its place in his trophy room this month, a few feet away from a Canadian wolf.

He plans to have friends and people in town over to celebrate the big kill with a bear party in the next few weeks.

"It is just a beautiful animal," said Martell, who owns a telephone company out of Glenns Ferry, and operates a Salmon, Idaho-based elk ranch. "When we first got up to it, my guide said to me, 'you have a million dollar bear."

The pizzly - Martell prefers "polar grizz" - can't actually be legally sold. But Martell has already received requests from museums that want to display the animal, and had calls from scientists asking him to describe the characteristics of the unusual creature.

From a distance, the animal looks like a slightly dirty polar bear. But up close, dark rings around its eyes, a hump on its back, long brown claws and an indented face are giveaways to its unique heritage.

DNA tests in April showed the bear's mother was a polar bear and its father was a grizzly. The bear has the small head and neck of a polar bear - they come in handy when going after seals through holes in the ice - but at about 7.5 feet long, it's closer in size to a grizzly than a polar, which can grow up to 11 feet.

The bear caused a stir in biological circles after Martell shot it on a 14-day, $45,450 hunt on Banks Island in northern Canada earlier this year. Polar bears and grizzly bears have been successfully mated in the past, but only in zoos; both bears' breeding habits have them mating several times before the female can become fertile, which means the two bears would have had to get along for about a week in the wild together, said Ian Stirling, a biologist who specializes in polar bears with the Canadian Wildlife Service in Edmonton, Alberta.

"It's obviously not a case of - to use a very crude term - a one-night-stand," Stirling said. "They've had to interact socially and very intensely socially for a very extended period of time. That's what makes this so surprising: they obviously look different, you'd think they'd recognize that they were dealing with a different kind of animal."

Martell nearly missed the bear that rocked the scientific world this spring: his guide spotted the polar bear-grizzly cross walking on a ridge above the ocean, about 300 yards away. Martell had just one shot.

Then he completely missed the flurry of scientific excitement that surrounded his prize: he was back up in Northern Canada on another hunting expedition, this time to nab a full-blooded grizzly.

"I called my wife and she said, 'How is my famous husband?'" he said. "I missed it all."

He got back just in time for the infamy. The pizzly discovery was prime blog fodder, and many were less interested in the bear than the man who shot it. Anti-hunting activists and environmentalists jumped on Martell for killing what, for now, seems to be a one-of-a-kind animal.

"We should have him mounted. Jim that is," one comment read. One Web site devoted to the bear, www.savethepizzly.com, lamented: "Why is the rare, never-seen bear OK to kill?"

"I just got piled on: phone calls, letters," he said "A lady from Missoula sent me an e-mail, saying, 'I'd like to put you in a barrel, with a bear and no gun.'"

But Martell says the comments haven't bothered him. Had he not shot the bear, no one would have known pizzlies - or grolar bears, if you prefer - could exist in the wild.

"If he'd-a just went and died, they wouldn't have known it could happen," he said. "It's actually helped biologists."

He also has his own theories about why his bear might not be one-of-a-kind for long. Polar bears evolved from brown bears like grizzlies, and are still very closely related - their offspring, like Martell's bear, are fertile. Martell believes polar grizzes like his could be the next evolutionary step for the bears - perhaps a response to global warming and their shrinking habitats.

Grizzly bears are already listed as a threatened species, and the Bush administration proposed giving polar bears "threatened" status last month.

Meanwhile, Martell's next step is to take his trophy to the Safari Club hunting show in Reno this week - he has a booth for his elk ranch there, and he thinks his famous bear will help draw people in.

After that, he says, it's staying in his trophy room until it goes to his oldest grandson.

On the Net:

Save The Pizzly: http://www.savethepizzly.com

If you go

Who: Safari Club International

What: 35th Annual Hunters Convention

When: January 24 - 27

Where: The Reno/Sparks Convention Center

Web: www.SafariClub.com


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Jan 19, 2007 02:11AM Published Jan 18, 2007 03:00AM Copyright 2007 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.