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Unusually colored animal, a cow with two calves, mystifies biologists

White moose haunts Sterling

Posted: Friday, March 09, 2001

Biologist Bill Kent was on his deck filling the bird feeder when an animal in the yard below caught his eye. At first he thought it was a caribou, but it was too big.

"And there she was, " he recalled, describing his first glimpse of the white moose that has been turning heads in Sterling this winter.

"It's not white-white like an albino," he said. "I likened it to a blond with bad roots."

He described the animal as a mature cow with two brown calves.

The moose is not an albino, because it has normal eyes and traces of color. A true albino lacks pigment and has pink eyes.

He speculated that the animal could be old with faded coloring, but readily admitted he does not know why it is so pale.

Although in many climates a white animal is easy pickings for predators, the situation here may be different.

"It might even be better camouflage," he said.

Kent works at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, which has gotten calls about the unusual animal. He and his fellow biologists could find no reference in scientific literature to the odd color variant, even in the moose bible, "Ecology and Management of the North American Moose," which was edited by scientists at the peninsula's own Moose Research Center.

"We're kind of drawing blanks around here," he said.

Kris Hundertmark is a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game who has worked at the Moose Research Center and studied moose genetics.

"It definitely sounds to me like it is a genetic mutation," he said. "Whatever it is, it is definitely extremely rare."

The animal may be rare, but it is not unprecedented.

Cohoe homesteader Herman Hermansen said there was a white moose there for many years.

When his nephew first reported seeing a moose calf with a white head, people razzed him and asked him what he had been drinking, Hermansen said.

But as time passed they all became believers. The cow grew up and frequently passed setnet sites, often trailing her calves, which were all brown, he said.

"Every year it got whiter," he reported.

Eventually, that moose only had two brown spots. The late Bob Talley took a picture of the animal and widely distributed copies, Hermansen said.

He said that moose died several years ago and was probably 10 to 12 years old at the time.

Hundertmark said he knew of a white moose sighted near Cantwell, and Hermansen said he had seen a mounted white moose, a bull, in the museum in Fairbanks years ago.



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