Albino Deer Calls Johnson County Home

Send by email Printer-friendly version Share this

From a distance, you have to ask yourself; is it a dog? Maybe a lost calf? Up close, though, it is unmistakable. The white fur. The pink nose, eyes and ears. It's an albino deer, wandering around southern Johnson County.

"Several farmers in the area watched it (through the year) with its mother, a normal doe," passes along Bernie Mellecker. "I'm 76 and I'd never seen one before. It's something I'll probably never see again in my lifetime."

Wayne Grout found it hard to believe, too. But he has proof. "We saw it from a distance and I started walking up to get a picture. At about 15 yards, it finally got up and took off." The two men live in the general vicinity of the white deer.

That white and pink color scheme are the result of a recessive gene which causes a lack of pigmentation. Animals occasionally carry such a recessive gene without having it appear in offspring. When both parents possess the same gene, that trait; in this case albinism, occurs. In Nature, it is usually the kiss of death. "From a biological perspective, it is a genetic defect," explains the Department of Natural Resources" Guy Zenner. "Albino animals have no camouflage; no way to hide from predators. As a result, they don't survive long."

Well, not always. An albino deer was discovered in 1980, just northwest of St. Ansgar in Mitchell County. Zenner was the area's wildlife management biologist for the (then) Iowa Conservation Commission. Farmers there more or less adopted the deer. In fact, to protect her during hunting season, they convinced the Iowa Legislature to pass specific language against the taking of predominantly white, whitetail deer. The doe stayed in the area, producing one or two "normal" fawns each spring. When she died in 1988, area residents chipped in for a full body taxidermy mount. Originally on display at Heartland Power Cooperative, it is now featured in a glass case, in a downtown St. Ansgar park.

Every few years, reports of a white deer surfaces. However, it might be a good time to re-read the hunting regulations. I asked several people, including a couple hunters, and none thought it would be illegal to take an albino deer. However, the specific legislation protecting 'predominately white whitetail deer' remains on the books.

And, yes, the albino deer is still out there. Grout says two or three people in the area have seen it in the last month.