On October 27, a couple from Northern Ontario were driving along Highway 101 near Foleyet, Ont., when they came across an unusual sighting and captured it on video. What did they see? Two white moose crossing the highway.
Because these moose sightings are so rare, these animals are also sometimes referred to as “spirit” moose. However, there have been more frequent sightings of these white moose in certain areas, specifically near Foleyet, Ont.
Despite the moose’s all-white appearance, it’s important to note that its colouring does not come from albinism, a congenital condition that results in a loss of skin pigmentation. These moose are also not a different species than the common brown moose, says Dr. Vince Crichton, a retired certified wildlife biologist from the Wildlife and Ecosystem Protection Branch in Manitoba. The only difference is that they possess a recessive gene that gives them the unique white fur coat. In fact, many people may mistake these white moose for albinos, but Crichton says there is one simple distinction between the two.
True albinos will most likely have coloured eyes — blue or pinkish — but these white moose seen last week have dark eyes, he says.
One of the main reasons why you may never spot one of these creatures is because the gene itself is rare. Crichton explains how it takes two moose with the same gene to find each other and produce a potentially white calf.
If a white moose mated with a brown moose, that gene could still be in the calf but will express itself only when an adult moose with the gene mates with another moose possessing the same gene. The point is that calf may not always share the same snowy white coat as its parents, and therefore, reproducing does not necessarily mean more white moose.
But why are these moose only in some locations?
Crichton explains how these moose are only seen in areas where the gene is located. That is why there have only been sightings in random plots of the world, including Sweden, Norway, Idaho, U.S., and provinces across Canada such as Alberta, Manitoba, British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Ontario.
Foleyet is known to have had more sightings of these anomalies simply because the gene is more prevalent in that area. And because of this, Ontario’s hunting laws protect them from being killed. Specifically, Ontario’s 2016 moose hunting regulations prohibit hunters from killing any moose that is more than 50 per cent white.
So, if you happen to spot one of these unique and special animals, enjoy the moment because you’re unlikely to see one again.