X

The Seneca White Deer – World’s Largest Herd of White Deer

The former Seneca Army Depot in upstate New York is home to a rare herd of white-tailed deer, all of which carry a recessive gene for all-white coats.

The Seneca white deer are not albinos, they are a natural variation of the white-tailed deer, which are usually a brown color. These rare deer are leucistic, meaning they lack pigmentation in the fur, but their eyes are the normal brown color. In the wild, the very visible white coat makes these rare creatures easy targets for both human hunters and predators like coyotes, but this particular herd was protected by a 24-mile (39 km) fence erected around the Seneca Army Depot in 1941. They were isolated inside the depot perimeter and since the military commander there forbade soldiers from shooting the white deer, their number grew into the hundreds.

Photo: BrianAdler/Wikimedia Commons

The white deer was under the Army’s protection until the Seneca depot closed in the 1990’s, after which the deer fell into the the care of local volunteers and kind donors. The Seneca County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) took ownership of the land after the army base formally closed, and in 2006, the first tours of the Seneca White Deer sanctuary were organized.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Seneca White Deer, Inc (@senecawhitedeer) on

In 2016, IDA sold 7,000 acres of the depot to Seneca Falls businessman Earl Martin for $900,000, on condition that the herd of white deer be taken care of. In a 2018 interview, Martin said that he had bought the property with the intention of using it for his metalworking and fabrication plant, but changed his mind after spending time with the rare deer.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Seneca White Deer, Inc (@senecawhitedeer) on

“The white deer have turned out to be a very integral part of what we’re doing,” Martin said. “It’s taken on a new life that people can’t understand unless they’re out there with us.”

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Seneca White Deer, Inc (@senecawhitedeer) on

Martin eventually rented the property to Seneca White Deer Inc., the same group of volunteers that had taken care of the white deer herd and organized the first tours of the former Army depot. They tried reopening tours, but despite their best efforts the project proved unsuccessful, and at the end of last year, the group announced that they were no longer conducting tours.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Bob Vishneski (@bvishneski) on

“Our efforts to build a tour program that could survive on revenues from tours and donations from our supporters were ultimately unsuccessful. We simply are unable to continue a program that could not meet its expenses,” Seneca White Deer Inc. announced.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Hiten Yadav (@phantom_clicks) on

All is not lost, though, as the property already has new owners, and they’ve already started conducting tours of the reserve again late last month. They were planning on doing bus tours, but then the Covid-19 pandemic hit, so they’ve had to change plans and offer drive-thru auto tours, instead. The cost of the tour is $25 per vehicle.

At its peak, the white deer herd numbered around 300 specimens, of which about 75 remain today. Hopefully, more people learn about this unique herd and former Seneca Army Depot becomes popular enough to at least cover all the expenses. That would at least ensure the survival of the white deer.