A White Moose? No, You’re Not Seeing Things

A rare white moose is roaming the wilds of Sweden, exciting both conservationists and the world at large. Is this “ghost” moose, as it has been dubbed, one of a kind?

The white moose was filmed by Hans Nilsson, a municipal councilmember in Sweden’s Eda Municipality of Värmland county. Nilsson recently spoke to Sverige Radio about his preoccupation with capturing the all-white moose on camera, a task he was finally able to accomplish earlier this month.

You can watch Nilsson’s footage here:

Isn’t the moose beautiful? But after glimpsing this captivating animal, many viewers are left wondering what caused the moose’s unique coloration.

Albinism?

Albinism occurs for a variety of reasons, but a common cause is defects in one of several genes that code for the production and/or distribution of melanin, or pigmentation. The condition occurs across many different animals, including humans, though it’s difficult to know precisely how many species might be impacted.

While albino moose may exist in the wild, albinism is not responsible in this case.

White moose

Moose with bright white fur crop up from time to time, and scientists believe that this feature comes from a recessive gene. In simple terms, this means that the gene isn’t usually active in most breeding pairs — but every so often it wins out.

When this happens, the moose offspring aren’t technically all white, though they may appear that way. Rather, their coats will have a predominantly white color with small specks of brown. These moose are referred to as “piebald”.

In May of this year, a video emerged of a piebald moose in Newfoundland. And reports of partially white and mostly white moose sightings have occurred across Europe, as well as anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere where moose or elk are found.

However, it’s unusual to find a moose that is as richly white as the one captured by Nilsson. And he claims that his white moose friend is not alone.

Nilsson has suggested there may be as many as 50 in his region. That figure might be a little high, however; the BBC offers a count of 100 out of a wider moose population of 400,000 for the entirety of Sweden.

Still, it’s worth noting that there is no official tally for piebald moose because they are hard to find and count. What’s more, Nilsson’s Värmland county appears to host more than just a few piebald moose, as several other sightseers have uploaded videos and pictures of their own encounters in the region.

And white moose numbers might actually be increasing.

Göran Ericsson of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences told National Geographic that one reason for the population growth is because these animals — which in that region have no predominant predators, aside from humans — are often overlooked by hunters due to their white fur. 

“Hunters have chosen to not kill any moose that are light,” Ericsson explained. “It is kind of like dog breeding. They [hunters] choose to select for traits that otherwise wouldn’t have occurred.” In other words, because hunters have chosen not to target white moose, the mechanisms of natural selection may be making the piebald trait more predominant.

Of course, we’d need hard data to back up that claim, but the promise of a few more white moose here and there does seem possible. Certainly, in areas like Canada, this kind of selection could be underway given that hunters are prohibited from killing moose that are over 50 percent white.

That said, it’s unlikely that this recessive trait will grow exponentially — after all, being so conspicuous comes with disadvantages.

While humans are able to see the value in swearing off hunting a relatively rare subset of animals — at least in this instance — other predators, like wolves and bears, will not be so restrained. Indeed, the white fur of the piebald moose might make it harder for the animal to find cover when predators are near.

Still, nature has so many wonders, and it is always a delight to experience such rare and unusual sights as the “ghostly” moose.

Photo credit: Image taken from YouTube video under fair use terms.

67 comments

Mark Donner
Mark Donner4 days ago

The solution should not be natural selection.. it should be open season on hunters.. scum of the human race.

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Margie FOURIE
Margie FOURIE17 days ago

So beautiful, hope he stays safe.

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Cindy M. D
Cindy M. D19 days ago

Such a beautiful animal. Be safe sweet soul! TYFS!!

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Nancy Wrightington
Nancy W25 days ago

Beautiful, isn't God amazing!!

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earthism i
earthism info29 days ago

change of skin color may be a genetic anomaly

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W. C
W. Cabout a month ago

Thank you.

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Clare O
Clare O'Bearaabout a month ago

See him browsing on young trees, this is why Yellowstone needed wolves.

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Clare O
Clare O'Bearaabout a month ago

Good camouflage in snow.

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Clare O
Clare O'Bearaabout a month ago

Novelty and clearly a healthy animal.

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Virginia Abreu de Paula
Virginia Abreu de Paulaabout a month ago

Splendid.

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