When What To My Wondering Eyes Should Appear . . . White Reindeer?

It's that time of year. That time when Clement Clark Moore's "Twas The Night Before Christmas" comes to mind. However are you aware his 1822 poem actually redefined how we think about Christmas? Also known as "A Visit From St. Nicholas," it is this tome that was one of the first to commercialize the Yuletide. Prior to the publication of his iconic tale, St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children had never been associated with a sleigh or reindeer!

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.

In 1939, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer was born in an extremely successful marketing campaign. It was conceptualized by Robert L. May, which actually made Rudolph the lead sleigh deer of Santa's pack of eight.

Similar to Rudolph (the outcast finally brought into the fold), this post is about another species of deer who don't receive that much attention, namely, the white reindeer.

Mythical Creatures

White Reindeer are not unicorns, yet they do seem to have otherworldly characteristics. For instance, according to Moore, Santa Claus' sleigh are pulled by 'flying' reindeer.

We have been captivated by white deer for centuries. Their ghost-like appearance has attracted myth, superstition and rampant scientific misinformation over time. Folklore about the origin of the caribou (aka reindeer) references a man who dug a hole deep in the ground to allow deer to pour out, enough to cover the earth.

Hunting writer Peter Flack notes in his book Kudu that hunters in Africa believe misfortune (sometimes including death) will befall any hunter who kills a white antelope.

Various African peoples have considered it bad luck to kill white reindeer. Likewise in Europe and in the British Isles, Celts believed that white deer were considered messengers from the netherworld and hence were to be respected and protected.

By the Numbers

Overall, reindeer have declined 56 percent from a total estimated population of 4.7 million individuals to about  2.1 million over the past two decades.

Herd population are known to decline where there are an increase in parasites, diseases, predation and hunting as well as reductions in foraging availability.

Albino, Leucistic or Piebald?

While deer can be albinos, it's exceedingly rare. True albinos are distinguished by their pink eyes. Albinism is a congenital condition defined by the absence of pigment, resulting in an all-white appearance.

Instead, most white deer exhibit a condition commonly known as leucism, a recessive genetic trait found in about one percent of all white-tails. As with albinism, leucism can be found in nearly all mammals,

Leucistic deer vary by their different levels of white, from patches of white, all the way up "all white". Mixed brown and white animals are often known as piebald deer.

Leucistic reindeer is the result of a rare recessive genetic trait that results in the loss of pigmentation, according to The Nature Conservancy

When What To My Wandering Eyes Should Appear . . .

While true white reindeer are difficult to find, Norwegian photographer Mads Nordsveen of Oslo captured some stunning shots of  them in northern Norway. His winter pics have proved to be a great hit with social media users. On Instagram, one of his shots alone, received over 59.1K likes (as of this post) since it was first published last Christmas.

Nordsveen was delighted with the positive response.

“I am very pleased with the reaction,” he said. “They are some very special photos, but I did not think it would blow up worldwide like this!”

Well, Mads, seems to me, Clement Clarke Moore probably felt the same, when he penned his tome, way back in 1822 (albeit, even in the absence of social media).

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

 

 

Primary Source: Animal Channel

 

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