SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A sighting of an albino deer is getting a lot of attention here in the Ozarks.
A man in Marshfield was able to catch a glimpse of the white deer that was standing on the side of the road. Dale Richerson was able to get a quick video before the female ran off with her herd.
Francis Skalicky with the Missouri Department of Conservation said this wasn’t the first time someone has spotted this deer.
“This particular one around Marshfield we’ve actually got several reports of,” said Skalicky. “She has been around there for at least a few months.”
Piebald v. Albinism
Piebald deer are deer that have blotches of white coloration on portions of their hide that are usually dark in color. Albino deer are deer that lack pigmentation and have a completely white hide and pink eyes, nose and hooves. Piebald deer are much more common with some studies showing the trait may show up in one in 1,000 deer.
Albinism is much rarer and may only be observed in one in 30,000 deer. There is also a very rare melanistic condition that causes a deer’s coloration to be extremely dark and sometimes black. This condition is much rarer than albinism.
“One in 30,000 sounds like a rare ratio, which it is, however when you have over a million deer in Missouri, which we do, that means you will probably have a few albino deer a year,” said Skalicky. “We get reports of them around the state.”
Albinism is a congenital condition defined by the absence of pigment, resulting in an all-white appearance and pink eyes. Many plant and animal species exhibit albinism (including humans). It’s difficult to accurately determine how frequently this condition exists in wild animals because albino animals tend not to survive long. They have poor eyesight and are conspicuous, making them easy prey. Research suggests that albino alligators, for instance, survive on average less than 24 hours after hatching.
Skalicky said the greatest danger albino or Piebald deer face is predators. Because of their bright white fur, they can’t hide as easily as normal colored deer.
Legends of the “ghost deer”
One of the most persistent legends is that a hunter killing a white deer will experience a long run of bad luck, perhaps never bagging another deer. This idea seems almost universal among hunting cultures. Hunting writer Peter Flack notes in his book Kudu that hunters across Africa believe misfortune (sometimes including death) will befall any hunter who kills a white antelope.
Hunting albino or leucistic deer
Hunters who kill albino and leucistic deer often find themselves the targets of internet outrage. A hunter bagging a leucistic moose set off a firestorm of social media hate.
When game regulations were comprehensively enforced in North America in the early 1900s, conservationists believed that rare wildlife needed to be protected. White deer qualified as rare, so many state game departments prohibited hunters from killing them. This regulation remains in effect in at least three states and parts of two others.
One interesting example of white deer protection is Seneca Army Depot in New York. The military installation was surrounded by a fence in 1941, essentially creating a 10,600-acre deer preserve.
Skalicky says it is legal for a hunter to harvest an albino deer just like a regular deer. He stated it all comes down to preference. Some want the deer to add to their collectibles while others want to appreciate its uniqueness on the landscape.
No matter where you stand on the topic Skalicky said it’s a rare sighting and it should be enjoyed. He said it’s another reason to be outdoors in Missouri. You never know what you might find in Missouri’s wildlife.