Setting the record straight on albino deer

Published: February 11, 2020

In Michigan, where the carrying capacity of deer is higher, you will find a larger population compared to parts of Canada. Albino deer on the other hand account for roughly 2 per cent of the world’s deer population, according to Ashley Autenrieth, a deer specialist with Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources.

Considering their limited numbers, Steve Lindberg, an amateur photographer from Marquette, Michigan, has been fortunate to run into them on a number of occasions during his photography outings in the area.

The elusive creatures often prompt a wide range of questions from what causes albinism to occur to whether they are bad for the herd. Cottage Life spoke with Autenreith to set the record straight on albino deer.

Where can you find albino deer?

They can live anywhere where in the world where any other deer live.

What causes albinism in deer?

It’s a recessive gene and it causes a lack of pigmentation in the body.

Often times when you have true albinism there are other genetic characteristics such as poor eyesight, shorter legs and sometimes blindness. This can cause a lower chance of survival because of the increased risk of predation, due to colour, and the other aforementioned genetic characteristics.

In addition to true albinism, there are two other types.

All white deer: Their hair is white and they do not possess any other characteristics.

Piebald deer: They have patches of white hair throughout their body, which is the main characteristic.

What do albino deer look like?

White fur, opaque skin, and basically red-looking eyes.

How rare are albino deer?

Recessive genes are very rare. We feel safe saying less than 2% of the deer populations across the world are albino, says Autenreith. If you happen to come across them, enjoy them because it’s a unique thing that you may never see again.

Can you shoot them?

They are not protected in Michigan, however, some states in the U.S. do protect them. Michigan lifted the protections because they want to treat the deer equally and they don’t want to perpetuate the recessive gene.

They are often tied to myths and seen as good or bad omens. For a lot of people, they’re really beautiful. Those advocating for their protection didn’t feel like they should be treated as a game species.

Are they bad for the herd?

From the perspective of what can come as a result of true albinism, yes.

What do they eat?

They eat the exact same thing that any other deer.

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