The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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December 29, 2013

Grand Vue Park’s white deer attract attention

Rare animals are ‘rock stars’ in the Moundsville area

BECKLEY — Earlier this year two white fawns stole the show at Grand Vue Park (www.grandvuepark.com) near Moundsville. They were hard to miss, and soon became favorites of park visitors. Park general manager Craig White told me people began driving through the park just to see the white deer. Photographers hoped for that special shot.

At a park event earlier this fall, someone told me, “Those deer are the park’s rock stars.”

The white deer became accustomed to the attention and soon developed some predictable habits. This fall, for example, the twins began showing up near a parking lot most evenings near sunset. At other times they visited the bird feeders by the main office. They were indeed celebrities.

So I was concerned when I heard that three deer had recently been killed at the park. Though special hunts are sometimes used to reduce deer numbers in towns and public parks when deer damage complaints escalate, hunting is prohibited at Grand Vue.

Like park visitors and neighbors, I was relieved to learn that the white deer were safe. White told me that neighbors and regular visitors were upset; several volunteered to patrol the park at night.

The white deer are just one of many attractions at Grand Vue, a beautiful, 600-plus-acre county park. It has something for everyone — a zip line course, par 3 golf, disc golf, miniature golf, a geocaching course, miles of hiking trails, rental cabins, a swimming pool, and a large bird feeding station complete with strategically placed benches. It’s Marshall County’s best-kept secret. And at least for now, it’s home to two wild white deer.

The desire to protect these special deer is understandable. Rare, seldom seen animals often trigger this reaction. We want to see and admire animals that are different because we may never again get such an opportunity. Native Americans, for example, revered white bison. Snowy owls, white robins and white squirrels evoke similar feelings. So I’m not surprised by the public’s reaction to Grand Vue’s white deer.

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. Grand Vue Operations Director Rick Vargo, who has frequently photographed these deer, says, “They seem to be pure albinos, but their eyes vary from pale to gray.”

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.

— Contact Dr. Shalaway via his website (www.drshalaway.com), via e-mail at sshalaway@aol.com or at 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.

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