In 1864, Inuit (Eskimo) hunters in Canada’s Northwest Territories killed an “enormous” yellow-furred bear. Naturalist Robert MacFarlane obtained the bear’s skin and skull and shipped the remains to the Smithsonian Institution, where they were placed in storage and forgotten.
Decades later, Dr. C. Hart Merriam found the specimen while conducting research at the Smithsonian. Upon closer study, he deduced that MacFarlane’s animal belonged to a new species. While the specimen resembled the grizzly more than the polar bear, the skull and teeth were different from those of all other living bears. The skull most closely resembled prehistoric species. Merriam named the animal Ursus inopinatus, the “unexpected bear.” In 1918 he went further, placing it in the newly created genus Vetularctos.
While Inuit stories about such bears continue, no other specimen has been collected. Theories concerning MacFarlane’s bear suggest that it is a freak grizzly, a grizzly-polar bear cross, or a surviving representative—maybe the very last—of a type that should have become extinct during the Pleistocene.
Dr. James Halfpenny, a polar bear specialist, disputes the notion of a “throwback” grizzly but remarks that grizzly-polar crosses are documented. No one, however, has properly compared this specimen’s remains to those of a known hybrid. The matter remains unsettled.
MacFarlane’s Bear is different from any known “giant” bear. That much, at least, is certain. The brown bear (Ursus arctos), varieties or subspecies of which include the grizzly, the Kodiak, the Peninsula, and the Kamchatka bear, is only one species of “giant” bear. Nineteenth-century hunter John “Grizzly” Adams once captured a live grizzly weighing 1,510 pounds. The other giant is the polar bear (U. maritimus). One outsized specimen measured more than eleven feet tall and weighed 2,200 pounds.
The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters,Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature
Written by Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark – Copyright 1999 Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark