The rare albino deer that recently turned up at an Ohio park may look beautiful, but they may be hiding a dark secret.
The Board of Park Commissioners at Mill Creek MetroPark has registered three albino white-tailed deer residing in the park near Youngstown. Albinism is a rare genetic mutation that affects the amount of melanin in the body, which controls skin pigmentation. Albino animals are very pale in colour, have white fur and mostly pink eyes.
The appearance of albino animals can be striking and beautiful. But the presence of these three albino animals at Mill Creek MetroPark may indicate poor population health within the herd.
The albino individuals are an indication that the population may be inbred. Although there are still only three known albino deer in the population, it is incredibly rare to find more than one in a population.
Nick Derico, natural resources manager at Mill Creek MetroParks, said news week: “Albinism by itself is not necessarily indicative of ill health, however this recessive genetic condition should be very rare as 1 in 20,000 (some estimates up to 1 in 30,000) deer exhibit this trait in wild populations under normal circumstances, The MetroParks Concern related to albinism in our herd of deer is the frequency with which this condition is expressed.
“MetroParks have had numerous albino deer over the years, with one or more usually born each spring. The high frequency with which this normally rare genetic condition is expressed in our herd is indicative of poor overall herd health in terms of genetic diversity, likely caused by inbreeding. This observation is just one of many raising concerns for the overall health of our deer herd.”
This deer population is also growing rapidly and is much larger than it should be. There can be a lack of genetic diversity in the population, which can cause albinism.
An infrared aerial photograph taken in January last year showed that the number of white-tailed deer in MetroPark averaged 387 per square kilometer.
“That number exceeds the country’s recommended ecological carrying capacity by more than 19 times,” Derico said.
Park officials continue to debate how best to monitor the population.
The park is not far from the site of the recent Ohio train derailment. The freight train was carrying various chemicals when it derailed on February 3. There are now widespread concerns that this could cause a full-blown ecological crisis, seriously affecting the surrounding environment
Experts said the environmental impact of the spill would depend on the speed and effectiveness of cleanup efforts.
So far it is not believed to affect the wildlife in the park.
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