Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The white deer

Piebald Deer

White deer are almost mythical beings. Almost every culture has a legend about them.

One Native American legend states that when two white deer come together, all the indigenous people will unite. In Japan, another story goes, 800 years ago an entire herd of white deer appeared to celebrate the opening of a temple. European stories either talk about the misfortune suffered by hunters who killed one or the fruitless attempts to take one by people like King Arthur.

After having the chance to spend time with a deer that was mostly white, I understand how they have achieved that status. I’m describing the location only as Pierce County in Washington state. Such deer, known as piebald deer, can face special challenges and I don’t want to do anything that would put even more pressure on it.

Piebald deer may appear to be partial albinos, but the two conditions are not related to each other. With albinism, there are few, if any, cells that are capable of producing pigment. In piebaldism, there are cells that can produce pigment, but for whatever reason that function doesn’t get activated throughout the body.

It’s not unique to deer. The condition is more common in animals like deer, horses, cattle, dogs, rabbits and mice, but even people can be piebald. Fewer than 2 percent of deer demonstrate any piebaldism. Deer with it can range from mostly white to mostly normal.

The condition is genetic and recessive. Piebaldism by itself doesn’t pose any medical issues, but in deer it’s often accompanied by birth defects like arched spines and deformed hooves.

The piebald deer that I photographed, however, appeared to be healthy and normal, except for its color. By some accounts, it may be three years old. That makes it an especially rare creature — worthy of its own post.

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