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The Ungava brown bear, or Labrador grizzly bear, is an extinct population of brown bear that inhabited the forests of northern Quebecand Labrador until the early 20th century. Reports of its existence were doubtful at best, until a skull was unearthed by anthropologist Steven Cox in 1975.

Distribution

The Ungava brown bear originally occurred in the northern part of the Labrador Peninsula known as the Ungava Peninsula in the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Labrador. Its habitat was similar to other grizzly bears, including boreal forest and tundra.

Discovery

Until concrete evidence suggesting its existence was discovered in 1975 biologists typically discounted the idea that a bear had once roamed northern Quebec. Various reports of brown bears were written off as color varieties of the common black bear.

Early Evidence

One of the earliest pieces of evidence supporting the existence of a brown bear in Labrador is a map of the region drawn in 1550 by French cartographer Pierre Desceliers, which depicts three bears on the coast. One bear is white and is certainly a polar bear, while the other two are brown.

Fur trapper's reports from local Moravian Mission posts indicate that brown and grizzly bear pelts were regularly recorded from the 1830s to 1850's.

The first photographic evidence of bears in Labrador dates to 1910. American ethnologist and northern explorer William Brooks Cabot made several visits to the Labrador region between 1899 and 1925 studying the Innu people. While on a canoeing expedition with Innu hunters Cabot came upon and photographed a bear skull mounted on a pole. Upon examination of this photograph, by comparing it to other bear skulls, Harvard anthropologists Arthur Spiess and Stephen Loring found that the skull belonged to a small brown bear.

Okak Excavation

In the summer of 1975, Harvard anthropologist Steven Cox discovered a small bear skull while excavating an Inuit midden on Okak Island in Labrador. The specimen consists of a nearly complete cranium as well as several molars. The skull is property of the Province of Newfoundland and is currently held in the Newfoundland Museum. By studying wear on the molars, Cox determined that the skull belonged to a full-grown, but small female grizzly bear. The discovery of more bear bones in the area is unlikely due to the Innu practice of consuming, utilizing or otherwise disposing of every part of hunted animals.

Extinction

It is not known when exactly the Ungava brown bear died out, but reports of their sightings slowly declined through the 19th century and the population was likely extinct within the first decade of the 20th century due to fur trappers.

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