For years, a small population of rare white deer have been living inside a former army depot in Seneca County, New York. Protected by a 24-mile long fence, the deer herd prospered and have since been an attraction for tourists. More recently the deer have come under threat by local development interests, but it seems that the animals have found a solution. Using a large gap in the depot fence, white deer are escaping into the outside world. For the conservationists trying to preserve the herd, this is not good news.
Pamela Smith was one of the first to see the white deer outside the depot last week, spotting at least four of the animals lingering in nearby fields. She told the Finger Lake Times that she frequently drives past the area and used to look forward to seeing the white deer, but she never expected the animals to be outside the depot. Worried that the deer would soon fall victim to traffic, she contacted Seneca White Deer Inc. President Dennis Money and inquired whether he knew that some of the depot’s residents could be escaping.
“Recently, there was a car crash which broke through the depot fence,” Money wrote back to Smith. “From what we hear, that case has been settled and the Army is waiting for the weather to become better so a contractor can fix the hole.”
Depot caretakers also said they have been monitoring the gap and have temporarily sealed it with rope. There is no estimate on how many of the depot’s deer, if any, had escaped through.
Word that some of Seneca’s white deer might be living beyond the depot’s confines bad news for the conservationists who have been working to save the area and the herd. Officials from the nearby towns of Varick and Romulus are eager to open up the 7,000-acre parcel to development, yet doing so may mean the end of the herd. After years living sheltered from predators and other dangers, the Seneca deer may find surviving in the wild difficult. Coupled with their white coloration, advocates say that should the depot be turned over to development, only the regularly-colored deer in the herd will survive the transition.
Even if the white deer manage to make a new life for themselves outside of their former sanctuary, it is likely that their white coloration will disappear if the animals interbreed with other deer. The high number of white deer at Seneca is due chiefly to their isolation.
Currently, there are 800 deer living within the depot’s borders, 200 of which are white. The Seneca white deer are not true albinos and instead are leucistic, which means they lack hair coloration but have natural brown eyes. Advocates say that while other white deer herds do exist, usually in protected environments, the Seneca white deer herd is assuredly the largest of its kind.
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