Whitest of Whitetails

Whitest of Whitetails

Just a week before James Yen started college at Emory University, he may have had a one in a million experience right near home. Yen, a Wootton ‘05 graduate, said he saw a white deer as he drove by the intersection of Scott Drive and Carriage Court near the Willows at about 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 17.

“At first I thought it was a goat or something,” Yen said. Driving with a friend, Yen pulled to the side of the road, stopped his car, got out and took a picture with his camera phone. The deer seemed unconcerned — it stood still while Yen snapped the pictures. “I bet I could have caught it,” Yen said.

Was it an albino deer Yen saw?

“It’s not out of the realm of possibility,” said Bill Hamilton, wildlife ecologist for Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission. “They don’t occur very often [but] they do occur.”

An albino deer was discovered several years ago in the Boyds area of Montgomery County, said Hamilton. This year, an albino fawn was discovered in Northern Virginia after its mother was struck and killed by a car.

Albinism is a recessive gene trait. In a deer, it means white fur, pink eyes, a pink nose and pink ears.

Piebalds are an anomaly among deer, but more common than a true albino. Piebald deer have mostly white fur, with the black eyes and nose common to whitetails. Their coloring also results from a recessive genetic trait.

People occasionally see piebald deer in Potomac, and piebalds are part of the herd that lives in Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Piebalds become more prevalent due to the overpopulation of a deer herd, and they tend to be short-lived, according to Patuxent’s Web site.

YEN IS CERTAIN that the deer he saw had white hair, and he thinks its nose was pink. The picture he took isn’t clear enough to determine for certain whether it was a true albino, and until Yen researched the Internet following the sighting, he said he couldn’t distinguish a true albino from a piebald deer. Yen’s friend, however, knew the difference and felt certain. “That’s an albino,” he said as they approached the deer.

“It’s a beautiful thing, I guess, but you just don’t expect to see something like that,” Yen said.

ALBINO DEER sightings are almost mundane compared to a few calls Park and Planning has received. “I can’t tell you how many cougar sightings have been reported,” Hamilton said. “They seem to occur in cycles.”

Over the past decade, cycles of sightings were reported in North Potomac and Damascus. Earlier this year, Hamilton received several independent reports of a cougar, or mountain lion, in Wheaton Regional Park.

“We’ve never validated any of the sightings,” Hamilton said, and naturalists haven’t found cougar tracks in any areas in the county where sightings were reported.

Local naturalists believe that people may have seen a mangy fox and mistaken it for a wild cat, said Steve Findley, a naturalist at Locust Grove Nature Center.

At least one exotic animal sighting in Wheaton Regional Park proved to be true — naturalists recovered a python from a tree near Brookside Nature Center in the park.

“It was apparently released from captivity,” Findley said.