What are the White Deer of the former Seneca Army Depot?
The white deer found at Seneca Army Depot are a natural variation of the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), which normally have brown coloring. The Seneca White Deer are leucistic, meaning they lack all pigmentation in the hair but have the normal brown-colored eyes. Albino deer, which lack only the pigment melanin, have pink eyes and are extremely rare. The Seneca White Deer interbreed freely with the brown deer in the former Depot and appear to share the habitat equally. Some of the white bucks show a flattening, or palmation, of the antlers, but are physiologically similar in most other ways.
The genetics of these deer have not been studied extensively, but a recessive gene for lack of pigmentation apparently prevents normal (i.e. brown) coloration of the hair. Management of the white deer within the former Depot increases the proportion of deer exhibiting the trait.
In an unprotected environment, white deer are usually easy prey for predators or hunters. The limited predators and controlled hunting on the former Depot have allowed the white deer to interbreed and increase in numbers for more than 60 years. Other white deer herds exist in protected environments, including white fallow deer in Ireland, but none of those herds are as large as the white, whitetail deer of the Depot.
History of the White Deer
Several dozen wild white-tailed deer were probably caught within the fence that was built to surround the Seneca Army Depot in 1941. Isolated from predators and hunters, the deer population grew quickly. The first white deer, a buck and a fawn, were spotted in the Depot in 1949. After the first white deer siting, protection from the US Army resulted in more white deer and the proportion of white deer gradually increased.
When the total population of deer within the fence grew larger than the limited habitat could support in the mid 1950s, the Army allowed hunting to reduce the size of the deer herd and prevent starvation, but protected the white deer from hunters. The Depot Commander, Colonel Franklin Kemble, Jr. gave orders not to kill the white deer and is responsible for the extensive herd that exists today.
Currently, white deer account for about 200 of the approximately 800 deer within the Depot fence. The future of the deer, as well as the rest of the wildlife in the former Depot’s Conservation area will depend on how the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency decides the 10,000 acre site should be used.
Read about the ancient Lenape Prophesy of the White Deer…