Wednesday, October 10, 2012


I spent this past weekend with a group of friends in the Finger Lakes region of New York. And on the way home we made a detour to see the Seneca White Deer.

We got lucky. As we drove up we saw a woman up against a fence with a camera. And we spotted the object of her attention, a white buck. I took a couple of shots before the deer disappeared into the brush.

The deer live on a World War II era army weapons depot, which has since been decommissioned. As we drove along the fence we spotted several more of the deer, and pulled over to get better looks, and perhaps an image or two. But they kept disappearing into the the woods. When we reached the end of the fenced in area we turned around and drove back along the edge of the old depot. But on this second, and subsequent third, pass we saw no more of the white deer.

Compared to regular white-tailed deer, these seemed like ghosts in the woods (the Lenape Indians actually referred to them as ghost deer). Bright white animals that stood out against the forest backdrop, but still able to disappear into it.

The deer are not albino. Rather they have a recessive gene that prevents them from developing a normal brown coat. Normally a white deer is easy pickings for predators. But these had the good fortune to live within the confines of the army depot. The lack of hunting and predators allowed the herd to thrive and grow so that today there are some 300 white deer.

But their future is not assured. The depot closed in 2000 and the land is currently owned by the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency. And as the Finger Lakes region is one of the poorest in New York most of the population is thinking jobs and not land preservation.

But there are people working to preserve the deer and the habit (which has been identified as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society).  Seneca White Deer, Inc. is a non-profit organization working to preserve the unique wildlife and military history of army depot. You can learn more about their efforts and the deer by clicking here.

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