A day set aside to show care to Mother Earth; something that really should be done each and every day. She's given us so many marvels and miracles; gifts for all to share and be in awe of. You need to look around. You're surrounded by her sights, sounds and smells; things you encounter every day. There are also those rare glimpses of wonders you never dreamed you'd see; natural oddities you never knew existed. Whether you're aware of them them or not; they all need to be preserved so we and others can continue to enjoy them and keep them as part of our life.
One of those parts include a mutation where I come from we call, 'The Ghost Deer'. You may think of an imaginary free spirit bounding through the woods, but we know they're real. People have seen them. Yes, indeed…and they hadn't been hitting up the moonshine when they encountered them, either. They really do exist. We have proof!
The story goes…a long, long time ago, back in 1941, the United States Army constructed the largest ammunition depot in the entire northeast, in the small hamlet of Romulus in the middle of Seneca County between Lakes Seneca and Cayuga in the Finger Lakes region. The 10,000 acre Seneca Army Depot was located 'right across the road' from the 2,500 acre Sampson Naval Base, which was constructed the following year. When the Army Dept was created, a six foot high chain link fence topped with barbed wire was erected around the entire property; unintentionally trapping a herd of white tail deer inside.
The deer had only members of their own herd to mate with and within a couple of generations; something strange was beginning to happen. A road ran around the inside perimeter of the depot and guards on patrol reported spotting what they referred to as 'ghosts…of deer…ghost deer'. Locals and passersby began seeing these 'ghosts of deer' as they drove along the highway just outside past the facility, being able to see through the fence. Quite the chill to come upon during the night, but they were spied in daylight hours, too.
Having only their own, small group to inbreed with, a recessive gene came out (leucism); a condition that results in the absence of cells capable of making pigment. That made the coats of some of the brown deer…white. Take note. leucism is not to be confused with albinism. These deer are not albino…just white. With albinism, the cells fail to produce melanin, whereas, leucism is a total cellular pigmentation failure. Leucism is extremely rare; even more so than albinism. Look at the pictures for the differences. With albinos, their snout and eyes would be pink. The 'Ghost Deer' have dark noses and eyes. There is color to parts of their anatomy that are not fur-related.
This mutation has actually been happening with deer in the area for many years in nature without being enclosed, but running wild and free. Local Native American 'mythology' tells of 'The Ghost of the White Deer'. Many tribes of indigenous people told of the 'Ghost Deer'; Seneca, Roanoke, Algonquin, Nanticoke, Pocomoke, Chickasaw and others.
With the Seneca Army Depot keeping them penned up, and resulting in 70 years of inbreeding; half, 350 of the 700 head in the enclosed herd are white…the largest herd of its kind in the world. There are only a couple other much smaller herds, of under 100 head each, in which only half dozen at most are white.
In 2,000, the U.S. Army decommissioned the Seneca Army Depot and moved out. The Sampson Naval Base had already closed down many years prior in the late 1950's. With ownership reverting from under federal auspices to control by the state, some of the large buildings and warehouses would remain, as would many of the above ground and built in igloos that used to store ammunition. However, the tall fence that surrounded the former depot was going to be dismantled…allowing the deer to scatter and eventually breed the leucism gene back into recession, thus, 'killing off' the 'Ghost Deer'. They would cease to exist to the exception of one birth in every 10,000, through breeding with a larger population that doesn't have a strong leucism gene.
The United States Coast Guard still operates a post on the former depot land. A decision was made to leave the fence in place, especially when four new prisons were built on the property; one minimum and one maximum security prison, both for men, a prison for teenagers and a woman's facility. The county, itself, eventually put up a new county jail and courthouse among the prisons, too. Not only would the perimeter fence help deter escaped prisoners; the 'Ghost Deer' were safe .
More interest has been given to preserving the 'Ghost Deer' with the Department of Environmental Conservation expressing interest in developing the many extra acres; restoring it to the more natural condition it was in prior to the army construction; open land, fields, forests and marshes. The army has also become re-interested in using some of their former property for training soldiers.
Wildlife Watch, Inc. would like to develop a natural wildlife park and turn it into a major tourist attraction, which would compliment the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in nearby Seneca Falls at the northern end of Cayuga Lake. The 7,000 acre Montezuma Refuge can boast to being the largest stop-over in the northeast for migratory water fowl, attracting over 1,000,000 birds flying through twice a year…but they don't have one, single 'Ghost Deer'. Wildlife Watch would like to further develop the bus tours that already run through part of the property. In addition to the deer, there are also many beaver, foxes and coyote along with birds of all kinds. Currently, bus tours on 'Ghost Deer' patrol are now running through the beginning of November.
For more information on the bus tours or to become a member of the group dedicated to saving and preserving the 'Ghost Deer', you can contact Seneca White Deer, Inc. 4780 Deuel Road Canandaigua, New York 14424 or you can call (515) 394 – 1287. I should note, if you're interested in a bus tour; they're already booked full through mid-May. Seats go fast and you may have to plan well in advance. Bring your cameras along, too. A $50 donation gets you two free Seneca White Deer tee shirts in either long or short sleeve.
Save the 'Ghost Deer'. A very good reminder about one aspect of Earth Day…and that Earth Day isn't just about planting a tree. Take care of our planet and nature every day. Saving one part of our world is just a step away from saving the entire planet.