A desire to protect these deer felt familiar. When my wife and I moved to West Virginia many years ago, we discovered that two white fawns lived in our woods. One was a buck; it was killed in its second year. The white doe lived for eight years and gave birth to at least one normally colored fawn each year. We felt privileged to have white deer so near. Sometimes they even passed through the yard. I suspect Grand Vue's neighbors feel the same way.
White animals result from genetic imperfections. In the case of deer, white individuals require recessive genes from both parents. So only two white deer can create an albino fawn.
Albinos are rare and lack the ability to manufacture dark pigments called melanins. Pure albinos are completely white, have pink eyes, pink ears, and even a pink nose. "They seem to be pure albinos, but their eyes vary from pale to gray," said Rick Vargo, Grand Vue's operations director, who has frequently photographed the deer.
Leucistic individuals, sometimes called "piebald," are more common. Piebald individuals have white patches anywhere on the body. I get reports of piebald deer every year.
One reason white deer are not more common is that being white destroys their ability to blend into the environment. When the white deer lived here on the ridge, I could scan the wooded hillsides and usually pick them out. Eighty-pound white animals stuck out like sore thumbs against a dull background of leaf litter and naked trees. But after a snowstorm, they vanished like ghosts in the night.
Under most conditions, white deer have a difficult time avoiding the sharp eyes of hungry coyotes and bobcats. Only when it snows do they have an advantage. I'm hoping for a long snowy winter at Grand Vue Park.