Moose of a Different Color: Unusual Animal Intrigues Viewers

Kenai Peninsula Clarion / Mark Harrison / July 6, 2004

A moose of a different color has been strolling the streets of Kenai. Instead of normal boring beige or blah brown, this moose is piebald white, it has a white breast with white patches over its otherwise normal-brown coat.

The cow moose showed up with two normal-colored calves in the VIP Subdivision off Kalifornsky Beach Road last week. Rachael Popp had heard rumors of a white moose hanging around the neighborhood but discovered the moose and calves for herself when she went to investigate why the family dog was barking.

"When dogs bark, it's usually at an animal," she said. "I looked out in the back yard and there was the mommy moose with her two babies."

Popp had seen pictures of white moose before but had none of her own. So when she saw the moose and calves a couple days later, she and her younger brother decided to take some pictures to show to friends.

"It's just an interesting looking moose you don't see often or ever," she said.

On closer inspection, Popp noticed the back of the moose's ears were hairless.

"The crease in the back part of the ear is pink. You can tell there's no fur on it," she said. "I figured it was partially albino."

The partially white moose is not a true albino, according to Tom Lohuis, director of the Kenai Moose Research Center.

"It's not albinism, but it is a lack of pigmentation," he said.

Lohuis hasn't studied variations in the coloring of moose coats, but he guesses the white coloring is the result of genetic variation.

"More than likely it's genetic," he said. "If I had to bet, I'd say it's due to a combination of recessive genes."

Recessive genes are generally masked by dominate genes. Both parents must carry a copy of the particular recessive gene in order for the gene to have a chance of being expressed in the offspring, Lohuis explained.

"The animal has to get the trait from both parents," he said.

According to Lohuis, each parent of the partially white moose probably carried a recessive gene for white-colored fur. The resulting white in the moose's coat is unusual, but not rare.

"It's not unheard of, but it's certainly uncommon," he said.

The fact that the white moose has two calves also is unusual. Twins are not common in areas with relatively dense human populations.

"In and around town, we expect 20 to 30 percent of cows to have twins," Lohuis said.

He calls twins "indicative of good habitat." The percentage of twin births can go up drastically in areas with a lot of vegetation and few people. In areas like the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, 70 to 75 percent of moose cows bare twins.

"The more twins you see, the better the habitat is," said Lohuis.

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