Several people reported an unusual sight outside their homes in a North Carolina community over Labor Day weekend.
Residents of the Taft Woods West subdivision in Clayton described what they had seen as a deer with irregular brown and white markings.
There was another odd thing they noted in the discussion on the neighborhood-based social media site, Nextdoor – the animal appeared to have a red collar around its neck.
“We were not quite sure what type of deer it was and it seemed strange that it had a collar,” Karen Trotta said Tuesday in an email to The News & Observer.
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Trotta’s daughter, Madison, was able to capture a photo on an iPad while the creature was in their backyard on Sunday.
The image appears to show a deer that is piebald, a condition caused by a genetic abnormality that results in “significant differences in hair color on their body ranging from almost pure white to splotches of brown, black, and white,” according to a N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission report.
The condition can also cause abnormal bone structures for deer, and it is much different than albinism – a lack of a gene for pigmentation – the report said. That could explain why parts of the animal’s body appear to be disproportionate, compared to a typical deer.
Studies show the piebald trait might be found in one out of 1,000 deer, whereas albinism might occur in one out of 30,000 deer, according to the Wildlife Resources Commission.
Ken Knight, supervising wildlife biologist for North Carolina’s Piedmont region, said he’s unaware of any current research study that would involve putting a collar on the deer shown in the photo.
“I’m pretty sure we’d know about it,” Knight told The News & Observer in an interview Wednesday.
Knight said the explanation could be one that is not that uncommon.
“It’s not unusual for folks to find a fawn deer they think is abandoned or orphaned and make pets out of them and put a collar on them, and just feed them like a stray cat or stray puppy,” Knight said. “I think folks want to give some indication of, ‘Don’t shoot this deer, it’s special,’ or something like that.”
Putting a collar on a deer is technically legal in North Carolina, but doing so and treating them as pets is “strongly discouraged” because it works against their natural instincts and teaches them to rely on humans, Joseph Spears, a senior wildlife enforcement officer covering Johnston County, told The News & Observer.
Keeping a deer in captivity, on the other hand, would be illegal except in a few circumstances.
“Pretty much any wild animal in North Carolina is not authorized to be kept in captivity unless the person has a captivity permit, and those are generally for rehabilitation and some for education purposes,” Spears said. “They’re not for keeping a pet in your backyard kind of thing.”