KAMLOOPS, B.C. - When John Stark looks out on the fenced bear compound in Kamloops, B.C., he doesn't see 11,000 square metres of trees, pools, boulders and shrubs — he sees a palace.
"I call it the Bear-Mahal," the B.C. Wildlife Park business and development manager said.
"There’s the Taj Mahal. Well, this is the Bear-Mahal because it’s an amazing thing."
Beginning this Victoria Day long weekend, visitors to the park, located about 350 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, will get a look at the enclosure's rare resident who made it all happen.
Clover the Kermode is making his debut after being mostly out of sight for the last three years, while his special $800,000 enclosure was being built.
Kermodes, also known as spirit bears, are black bears with a rare recessive gene that makes their coats white or cream coloured.
Stark said the wildlife park plans to eventually move its other three black bears into the new habitat as well, but the process will be slow and lengthy. For now, Clover is a bachelor.
A small cub when he arrived, Clover is now a whopping 150 kilograms — so big, Stark said, that even his keepers were surprised when they weighed him during his transfer to his new home last week.
Stark said the bear is being introduced to the new area slowly but should be roaming freely soon.
The new habitat is still a work in progress.
While Clover’s home is ready, along with a viewing platform for the public, only Phase 1 of the project is complete.
Also in the works is an interpretive centre explaining spirit bears.
The bruins are culturally significant for First Nations on the central and north coast of B.C., the only place Kermodes are found.
They are also the official provincial mammal and illegal to kill, facts that saved Clover.
Orphaned as a cub, Clover became habituated to humans and previous attempts to relocate him failed.
While a normal black bear would have been destroyed as a pest, he was sent to Kamloops.
"It was without a doubt the best thing for the bear. The bear would probably not have survived. Probably somebody would have ended up shooting it — which is totally against the law in British Columbia, but they’d say, 'Oh, he was attacking me. He was in my yard ripping my garbage apart.'"
The move was not without controversy. Animal-rights group Lifeforce started a petition demanding the bear be freed, which attracted national media attention. Only about 900 people signed the document.
Stark said the park hasn't heard from Lifeforce for some time.
Clover is now attracting international attention for different reasons.
More than 25 busloads of Californian tourists are expected to stop in Kamloops this summer, hoping for a glimpse of the unusual bear. (Kamloops This Week)