The Ghost Deer of Romulus, Part I

Upstate New York is home to many fantastic sites: Niagara Falls, Letchworth Gorge, Boltd Castle, etc. To the list of the unique and bizarre in our state, I would like to tender a new member: the Ghost Deer of Romulus.
For those not yet familiar with the story of the White (Ghost) Deer, it is a tale of how our human behaviors affect the natural world in ways that have unintended and sometimes shocking effects. It begins in 1941, when the US Army created the 10,500 acre Seneca Army Depot on the shores of Seneca Lake; that year, the military fenced off 7,500 acres as a security precaution for the base. A small herd of deer was trapped within the security fence and subsequently thrived within the protected area.

One or two of the deer in that herd possessed a rare mutation: their offspring had pure white coloration and oddly flattened horns. When a base commander spotted a white buck in the 1950s, he ordered it protected. Every year when the military thinned the herd to decrease auto accidents, they only shot brown deer, giving the white deer the advantage they needed to flourish. The deer are not albinos, they have brown eyes and other minor bits of color, but a unique genetic change. While this mutation does occasionally appear in isolated examples, what we now find in the old Seneca Army Depot is the world’s only concentrated herd of white deer (200-350 are the estimates I’ve found).
The Cold War produced many aberrations- divided Berlin and Korea, America supporting dictators in the name of Democracy and Russia supporting dictators in the name of the people and the general madness of Mutually Assured Destruction- but this freakish ghost herd sitting in tranquil Upstate New York, eating grass amongst the silos that once held bombs capable of destroying the world, are perhaps as strange a symbol of that time as any other.
They are a strange perversion of natural selection accidentally created by the whims of men (both the rulers of two empires and the base commander) and will exist only as long as that 24-mile fence holds back true natural selection. How many other caricatures of nature are maintained only through our continual maintenance? What are we doing with the dams, the fields of agribusiness clones, the acres of matching trees in rows and the perfectly green lawns blooming in the desert? Is it possible that our reach extends so far that we hold up an entire manufactured ecosystem on our shoulders? What would happen if we just let go? Are the ghost deer, with their strange stares and haunting appearance, in fact the norm, merely the logical conclusion of the world we have built?

-by Jesse

Read Part II of this article


Jon said...

Wow, you're right to point out all of the human foibles that went into this, but I'd love to see those deer sometime. Very interesting what Mother Nature can do given a few changes in condition.

Also, can we get some flood coverage on here? It seems like the local and national media have already dropped coverage, and I'd really like to see some photos or hear about what exactly happened down there.

Natalie said...

Some images and more information about the Seneca white deer can be found at senecawhitedeer.org

As for flood coverage, I'd love to have more too. Neither Jesse nor I are currently residing in an affected area, though contributer Joe sent us this dispatch from the front lines.

I will up my flood attention, and just so readers know (if they didn't already) you're more than welcome to make a contribution of anything to York Staters (so long as it's upstate NY related) If anyone reading this has thoughts or stories about the flood, please send us an email and we'll post it. Details are on the sidebar.

wild turkey desire! said...

holy smokes,,,,,!

So excellent to hear about this from someone. In my opinion these white deer are an excellent example of the cold war gone mad, which unfortunatly still has remains in the present.

I've heard this story before and was under the impression that one of the reasons why their is such a large population of white deer at the Seneca Army Depot was because it is a completly fenced in area. Meaning that once this unusual trait exisits, for whatever reason, be it nuclear materials, mercury laced ponds, mutant evolution, or rare ore samples retrived from the oceans bottom, these animals have no where to go outside of this highly polluted and controlled environment. Therefore, forcing them to reproduce within this confined environment, ergo; effectively limiting the gene pool of these deer.

My question is, why are these deer white to begin with if they are not albino?

In the discourse you said, "The Cold War produced many aberrations"; which seems to almost hint at the real causes speculated behind this occurance.

The white deer, at least in my outsider opinion seem to be a stable population, with the government organizing (or at least folks related to the gov't) hunting journeys into the areas of the white deer, which is the Seneca Army Depot.

Of course, to the typical upstate deer hunter, these deer are off limits, for the chances of one being invited along on an expedition are slim, while the folks connected within the gov't or willing to pay the mega bucks (a complete hypothesis) are the ones who go out and shag these deer to drive them home on the roofs of their black tinted windowed SUV to eat.

To bad they stopped selling irradiated beef at most stores, now you've gotta hunt for it; but it'll cost you...

Natalie said...

I think they can be white without being albino (semi)naturally, it could be just a recessive trait that doesn't get expressed normally due to the more diverse gene pool available to non-fenced-in deer. There's always the possibility that the conditions (chemicals? radiation?) at the base affected them. I heard once there's a place there where the snow falls but never sticks to the ground because of the missile silos. Which just seems weird (if it's true)

I've been meaning to ask, wild turkey desire, are you desirous of the animal or the eponymous liquor?

Nicholas said...

Just saw a 90% white "ghost" (piebald) deer in Southern Columbia County. Quite amazing!

Anonymous said...

When I lived in Seneca County, I wrote a story about the "white deer" in the old Seneca Army Depot. The title was "Nuclear Deer". It was written as an April Fools Day joke. I hinted that maybe some of the Nuclear Material that was stockpiled there, might have caused the mutation of those white deer.