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Rare albino deer seen roaming county’s woods

PHOTO PROVIDED An albino deer mingles with the more common variety in this photo submitted by Michael Foster, of Amy Lane.

A county neighborhood close to the edge of the forest has been witness to a very rare occurrence of wildlife in the state.

The deer population in Michael Foster’s area of Amy Lane  usually travels around the neighborhood in groups of three or four, he said.

“Sometimes we see as many as 12 together,” he said. ” Nothing out of the ordinary.”

But recently, there’s been an albino deer in the mix.

Foster first saw the albino deer as a fawn in the spring standing in his backyard — its vibrant white coat sharply contrasting with those of the others.

“It’s almost a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Foster said. “It’s very rare that you see a fawn that size let alone a fawn that is an albino … it was about the size of a puppy.”

A few weeks ago, Foster said he saw the deer again, and it’s grown much bigger.

Foster’s wife, Patty Foster, and others in the neighborhood also have seen the deer with the same group.

Albinism is a condition that results from the reduction of melanin in the animal, Travis Lau, a spokesman for the state Game Commission, said.

“You can see it in all sorts of different animals in all areas of the state,” he said.

Outside conditions such as weather and geography wouldn’t have any affect on albinism, and it is generally very rare, Lau said.

Other conditions can cause an animal to be white, but specific conditions have to be present in the animal to be decidedly albino, Lau said.

“To be considered albino they have to have the white coat but also have pink noses and eyes,” Lau said. “The pigmentation that albinos lack would give them the darker coloration.”

Michael Foster confirmed the deer roaming his neighborhood has the signature characteristics.

Some deer can have partially white coats that aren’t a result of albinism.

Piebald deer show partially white coats but have the black nose and ears, Lau said.

Lau said there are two conditions that can cause a brown deer to be white — albinism and leucism.

Albinism is the result of reduction of melanin production only and leaves them very sensitive to overexposure to sunlight, increasing their risk of melanomas and retinal damage.

They usually die at an early age.

Leucism is a condition characterized by reduced pigmentation also caused by a reduction in all types of skin pigment, not just melanin.

A piebald deer has partial leucism, resulting in irregular patches of white on an animal that otherwise has normal color and patterning.

With the millions of genetic combinations that occur when deer breed, leucistic or piebald deer are rare but widely documented throughout the range of the whitetail.

Usually, they are reported at rates under 1 percent in the deer population.

An albino deer  still can be harvested normally.

“It’s rare that in most deer don’t look like that, but there’s really nothing else to distinguish it from another deer,” Lau said.

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