It looks like a white dog, or maybe a white goat, or a white donkey. Except it’s hanging out with a bunch of deer, and deer don’t typically hang out with dogs, goats or donkeys, no matter what color they are.
So yes, the mostly white animal that’s been spotted in and around McAlpine Creek Park in southeast Charlotte is definitely a deer. And residents are definitely interested in proving it exists.
Unfortunately, because they never know when they’re going to run into it, they’re rarely prepared. Pretty much everyone has tried to photograph it with a cellphone, so pretty much everyone has wound up with a blurry shot of something that looks like … a white dog, goat or donkey.
But last week, after several failed attempts to snap a decent pic, Larry McAfee was inside when he again spotted the creature – officially classified as a piebald deer – in the yard of his Stonehaven property, which backs up to the park.
It was a bit of a challenge to get the shot: “We had to lift up the window carefully and take the screen off carefully because he was afraid that they would run away,” said McAfee’s wife, Donna.
Larry McAfee had experience (and a decent camera) on his side: “I’m a national park ranger during the summer out in Badlands National Park,” said McAfee, 67, “and I enjoy the challenge of trying to get wildlife photos and scenery photos out there.”
While they can be a breathtaking sight to behold, piebald deer are otherwise characterized as imperfect physical specimens. The genetic variation tends to produce genetic problems, including scoliosis (curvature of the spine), club feet, short legs, and a Roman nose (bowing of the nose), said Ken Knight, a wildlife biologist for the Wildlife Resources Commission.
How uncommon are they? Well, piebalds aren’t as elusive as, say, Bigfoot, or a unicorn, but the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission believes that only about 1 in 1,000 deer have the abnormal white-with-patches coloration.
When they turn up, they create buzz. Lately, they seem to keep turning up in two general areas southeast of center city Charlotte – just west of McAlpine Creek Park along the greenway, and in Matthews, near South Trade Street/Pleasant Plains Road and Weddington Road.
So lately, there’s been buzz. A sampling:
• “I thought I saw a goat on the edge of the woods, but on a closer look it was a young, white deer,” wrote Trish Field of Matthews.
• “(It was) maybe 200 yards away and it was dusk, but it was definitely white or mostly white,” wrote Jim Banbury, also of Matthews. “I told my wife the only other thing it could have been was a white Great Dane, possibly adopted by the deer.”
• “My wife and I just saw … an albino deer, about one hour ago near Matthews,” wrote Stewart Moore.
Based on several accounts – and two photos taken from a distance by Moore – the white deer in Matthews actually may be an albino deer, which is more rare than a piebald. The Wildlife Resources Commission says albinism may only be observed in 1 in 30,000 deer.
Obviously, both piebalds and albinos stand out in the wild, making them a potentially easy target for animal predators. And for human hunters.
So this story and the specificity of the deer’s location may make the animals’ fans nervous.
“One of (my co-workers) is a hunter, and he said to not tell anybody where it is because some hunter will come out and then try to kill it because it’s so rare,” said Sharon Walker, a neighbor of the McAfees in Stonehaven. “He was really serious. He didn’t even want me to tell him.”
But Walker’s co-worker and others should know this: Deer hunting season ended Jan. 1.