An albino buck at the Rolling Rock Club in Westmoreland County.
By John Hayes / Post-Gazette
Delaware tribes in what would become Pennsylvania believed that when two all-white deer are seen together, it is a sign their ancestral “Peoples of the Dawnland” have returned to lead the world with their wisdom.
A troubled world can only hope that two white deer seen separately in Westmoreland County will pair up soon.
Since last year, Pennsylvania Game Commission biologist Jeannine Fleegle, a member of the agency’s deer and elk team, has watched a white-colored white-tail deer near Ligonier.
“While I have yet to see it in binoculars,” she said, “it is the whitest deer I have ever seen.”
A few miles away, another pure white deer has been thrilling residents for six or seven years.
Photographed last week by resident Alec Mellon, the deer’s pink eyes and nose identify it as a true albino. It is believed to be a male that has shed its antlers and has been seen browsing alone and with several normally colored deer.
Albinism is caused by the pairing of specific recessive genes from both parents, which can be normally or abnormally colored. The gene passes an inability to manufacture dark pigments, a condition that makes the animal extremely sensitive to sunlight and increases susceptibility to skin cancer and retinal damage. Albino animals often die at an early age. It is believed to occur in about one out of every 20,000 to 30,000 deer.
White fur doesn’t necessarily indicate albinism. Deer born with a condition called leucism have a lack of pigmentation in hairs but normally colored brown eyes and a black nose. Partially leucistic deer, commonly called piebald, have white patches of fur. Leucistic deer can have many abnormalities — disfiguration of the nose or jaw, short legs, curved spine, malformation of internal organs — and may die at birth or shortly thereafter.
Mr. Mellon said the albino deer appears more docile and tolerant of humans when it’s not in the company of other deer. That could be a symptom of albinism-related reduced visual acuity. The deer may be just as uncomfortable with humans, but it can’t see them.
A white-colored deer is extremely vulnerable to predation as a newborn and young fawn. Later in life it can be more easily seen by hunters who might consider it a special animal to be conserved, a rare prize suitable for mounting or a congenital mutation best removed from the population. In Pennsylvania, abnormally white and albino wildlife have no special regulatory protections. The state Game Commission views the condition as within the parameters of normal genetic variation.
John Hayes: 412-263-1991, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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