Tribal Council extends special protection to rare white deer spotted on reservation

A rare leucistic – all-white – deer has been seen several times on the Southern Ute Reservation in mid-November by hunters and tribal staffers.
Noah Barstatis/SU Forestry Division

The Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council passed a resolution Friday, Dec. 22 adopting emergency regulations to protect a rare all-white deer seen by hunters over the past two weeks on the Southern Ute Reservation.

The mule deer is not albino, but leucistic – a condition that describes a lack of all surface pigment but, usually, normally colored eyes. It has been seen several times on the reservation in mid-November by hunters and tribal staffers. To protect the animal, the tribe’s Wildlife Resource Management Division declined to say where it’s been spotted.

“An animal like this is a rarity anywhere,” said tribal elder Alden Naranjo Jr., who provided the cultural perspective to the council prior to its decision. “Something like this that is once in a lifetime … has a very high spiritual significance to it.”

Naranjo said in the past, the reservation occasionally has seen similarly rare animals – including a pinto deer – but they received no special protection and were harvested. He encouraged the council to ensure things were different this time.

“I think we’ve been blessed with an animal of this significance on the reservation,” he said.

Members of the council unanimously agreed. Councilman Howard D. Richards Sr. said each time he prays, he asks for protection of the wildlife.

“I respect that, and I want to move forward with [the resolution],” he said.

Councilman Alex S. Cloud said it’s important that both tribal members and tribal law enforcement officials know about the deer’s protected status.

“The Creator has given us this gift, this animal, so we need to protect it,” he said.

Under the tribal constitution, the council’s emergency regulations may take effect without prior advertisement, but will only last 90 days unless there’s a vote to extend them. And critically, Wildlife Resource Management Division Head Steve Whiteman added, they only apply as long as the deer remains within the reservation boundaries.

The white deer is a significant symbol in several cultures. In Christianity, Saint Eustace was converted after a vision in which he saw a white stag with a cross between his antlers while hunting. In Celtic lore, the white stag appears when someone is transgressing and represents the Otherworld.

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