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Rare White Elk Photographed in Western Montana

white elk
Missoulian

A rare white elk was photographed recently in western Montana.

While white deer are a fairly common sight, a white elk is a much rarer event. But one was just photographed in Montana.

The strange-looking elk is starting to become something of a local celebrity in Thompson Falls Montana, which is located in the far western portion of the state. The elk has been seen by several people in the Prospect Creek drainage area.

“We were wondering what was wrong with her at first,” Lisa Koker, who took a photo of elk, told the Missoulian. “We thought maybe she was really old, or not shedding right.”

The cow is not a true albino since it has dark patches of hair, but is instead suffering from leucism. It is quite similar to albinism in that it is the result of recessive gene that causes a lack of pigment. However, animals with the condition don’t have the pink eyes or noses albinos typically do.

Obviously the condition puts the while elk at a severe disadvantage over normally-colored animals in the area. In fact, it’s rare for a calf to live more than a few months because of how easy it is for predators to spot them.

“You can imagine a white calf trying to lie in a green or brown field,” University of Montana professor Gordan Luikart told the Missoulian. He said the chances of a leucistic calf elk are probably around 1 in 50,000 to 1 in 100,000.

“I’m speculating, because there’s not a lot of data,” Luikart said.

There’s no denying the elk is easy to spot. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist Bruce Sterling is one of the lucky ones to have spotted the elk. He saw it during an aerial survey of the region.

“I don’t know how old she is but she’s definitely not a calf,” Sterling told the Missoulian. “She’s at least 1 ½ years. Since we hadn’t heard about her before, if I had to take a guess I’d say she’s a young cow.”

It’s not the first time a white elk has been seen in the Thompson Falls area, but it has been a while. Sterling said a young bull was taken by hunters about 15 years ago that was much whiter than the new cow.

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Rare White Elk Photographed in Western Montana