US Army raises world's largest herd of white deer

Dylan Thuras is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer. .


Recovering from our experience being Boinged (Sysadmin, save me!) I thought I would share a wondrous site found in a less than exotic location...

The story begins in 1941 at an army depot in Seneca County, NY when some soldiers noticed a couple white deer roaming inside their 24-square-mile fenced-off base. Realizing that something strange (and wonderful) was afoot, the General ordered the soldiers to protect the white deer. While the soldiers continued to hunt brown deer inside the confines of the reserve, the white ones were allowed to breed. With predators were kept at bay by a giant fence, and pressure put on the brown deer by hunting, the white deer population was able to explode. (These blanched deer are not albinos, as you might assume, but rather possess two copies of another rare recessive gene for whiteness.) There are now 200 of them roaming the grounds, the largest herd of white deer anywhere in the world.

Today the base is no longer active, but the deer are looked after by a not-for-profit organization--Seneca White Deer Inc--devoted to managing the herd. They are currently fighting plans by developers to reduce the area to a fourth of its current size.

Seneca White Deer Website


  1. So the Army shot the “brown” and protected the “white” deers, and that’s a good thing? (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself, though I probably should have tried harder…)

    Did the Army “raise” a herd of White Deer or did they simply not shoot them (as compared with the boring brown deer they lived with)?

    It seems the Army “tolerated” the White Deer, the non-profit is raising them…

    What I find interesting is that the standing “order” (not sure how formal it was) obvioulsy survived countless Base Commanders over the 60+ years the White Deer have roamed this 24 Acre preserve.

  2. [script joke ( “hunt brown deer”, “the white ones were allowed to breed”, “1941”, “U.S. Army” )]


  3. Ugh, my previous post said the site was 24 acres – it is 24 square miles, sorry.

  4. I’ve been wrong before, but – um, aren’t those deer white because of a recessive gene, and maybe they are meant to be more susceptible to predators as some form of natural selection? and we are protecting them because they are neat to look at? people are weird.

  5. Actually, no. They’re clearly not more susceptible to their only predator in this environment, humans. They’ve evolved a very unusual defense mechanism of being “neat looking.”

  6. Yeah – I guess only taking into account the last hundred-odd years of human history when we have had enough free time to give a crap about how “neat” our former prey and competition for foraging looks instead of the last 40,000 makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the wake up call, Moriarty.

  7. @4 I live near the old base, and believe me, if there’s one thing this area doesn’t need, it’s more deer. Around here, if you haven’t hit one with your car yet, you will soon. They’re about as common as squirrels.

  8. That’s fabulous! Breed out the necessary tools the deer have for blending into their environment to avoid predation and encourage the genetic abnormality that makes them stand out like a chocolate cake at a Jenny Craig convention. Brilliant.

  9. See also the Heiki crabs, a species with shells that look remarkably like angry samurai faces, and which were featured in Carl Sagan’s Cosmos miniseries. Supposedly they got that way because of centuries of superstitious fisherman throwing back the most human face-looking shells…

  10. I went to college up near there, and was told that the base was still active and that the albino deer were more sensitive to radiation leaks than were normal deer, so if there was a leak the deer would die and that would alert the army to the leak. It didn’t make any sense then, and it still doesn’t make any sense now, given that actual radiation detectors would be much more accurate, but it’s funny to see the kind of stories people come up with to tell other people.

  11. It’s nice to know that there was room for whimsy in a General’s heart during WWII.

    As to the assertion by ChrisFrelin (#7)concerning the deers recessive genes and that maybe they are meant to be more susceptible to predators, Chris are you really saying that evolution (by using natural selection) is a conscious, thinking process?

    Or did I just read that wrong?

  12. Evolution may be a conscious, thinking process (it’s certainly hard to prove the negative) but it just doesn’t work that way. The only thing “meant to be” is change as far as evolution is concerned… conscious or not.

    These white deer have been interbreeding with the east coast whitetail population for decades and the “cow deer” are commonplace from Maine to Georgia these days.

    There are several that visit my yard. My hunter friends claim the pure white ones are often deformed and goatlike, with crooked, shortened legs; but I have seen no evidence of this personally.

  13. Another U.S. Gov’t site with white deer is here at Argonne National Labs, outside Chicago. The non-native fallow deer are of the white coloration inside here, and the white-tails and mule deer are kept outside the fence. Apparently they are the remnants of a herd for sport hunting from before it was taken over as a DoE site.

  14. And as an added bonus, if we ever need the food for the war effort they’ll be easy to spot! :P

  15. Long Island’s Brookhaven National Laboratory has a lovely flock (?) of wild turkeys

    <3 Jason

  16. LOBSTER suggested:

    if we ever need the food for the war effort they’ll be easy to spot! :P [emphasis added]

    An excellent point!

  17. @chrisfrelin

    Since all the major deer predators (barring humans) have been killed off by humans, the evolutionary pressure kind of isn’t there anymore. So, what you are seeing is current “Natural Selection”. If you can name a current deer predator near populated areas besides hunters that’s numerous enough to hunt white deer with any population effect, you get a cookie.

  18. Thanks for this article, my dad and I (both biology geeks) have been puzzling over the occasional white-but-not-albino deer for a few years now. Deer are like rats where we live (like #22 said, East Coast of Canada) so seeing a family group of seven or more at once every day is no big deal. There was just one to start, spotted white, and then a white foal appeared so the gene is being passed on. Considering the size of the population it’s only natural that we’ve got a few double-recessives wandering around.

  19. “#4 posted by Anonymous, June 16, 2009 1:41 AM

    Take that Charles Darwin! Natural selection is for the weak.”

    Hahahahahaahaha :)
    That’s not what I hear.

  20. Human’s are animals as well. We play as much a natural role in natural selection as any other animal. The arguments I’ve read here are something like “The General’s decision was an un-natural, or artificial decision” if I were to carry that ‘axiom’. Natural selection continues based soley on the whimsy of whatever animals are natural.

    Besides those deer aren’t deformed. Natural selection only actions on the phenotype not the genotype. Their fur doesn’t matter.

  21. There are several thiks that eat a whitetail deer. Bears eat them he can run faster than a deer for a shot distance. Any kind of big cat eat deer such as the mountain lion.The deer most feared enemy besides humans would be a coyote they kill alot of deer and can hurt the population. They do not normally kill full grown deer but when they give birth they will eat the young and ive seen them hurt the populaion around my area pretty bad.

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