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Catching a glimpse of a wild animal, unless it is running in front of your car on the highway, can be a unique experience for urban-dwellers.

But 13-year-old Kaitlyn Elder spotted something even more unusual a few weeks ago — a white deer.

During a recent family outing, the Cache County teenager snapped a few shots of the ghostly doe.

"My grandma said she thought she saw a white one. I couldn't believe it," said the teenager from River Heights, a suburb of Logan. "I didn't even know there was such a thing."

Biologists say the odds of seeing a pigment-challenged ungulate like the female mule deer roaming with a Cache County herd are one in 30,000. But Utahns report seeing a surprising number of white and speckled deer from northern Utah to Arches National Park.

Elder's deer, it turns out, was probably not an albino, but displayed a genetic abnormality that made it stand out against its brown companions. After looking at Elder's pictures, Utah wildlife biologists believe the white doe was not a true albino.

"If it was a true albino, it would have a pink nose. Honestly, it kind of looks like Rudolph," said Justin Shannon, big game coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR). "The eyes are also dark on this doe. They would be pink."

Albino members of the deer family also feature pink ears and cream-colored hooves. True albinos lack the ability to produce melanin — dark pigment cells.

No one wants to say for sure exactly what genetic disorder the doe the Elders spotted is exhibiting, but it seems probable that it is leucistic, with a white coat, but normally colored eyes, skin and hooves.

A third genetic disorder leads to a variation in animals' fur color. A mule deer fawn first spotted in Arches last summer and fall exhibits the "pinto" or piebald condition, where the animal generates some melanin, but it shows up inconsistently, creating a mottled or speckled pattern.

That fawn was photographed again in Arches in January and shared with the world through the national park's Facebook page.

Shannon and Leslie McFarlane, mammals program coordinator for the DWR, say there are occasional reports of white big game animals throughout the state each year.

"It is pretty rare," Shannon said. "I've worked a lot of [hunting] check stations and I have done a lot of deer classification counts and I haven't seen one. It's just cool to be a member of the public and to be out there and see one."

McFarlane once spotted a piebald moose while doing an aerial count and saw a cream-colored mule deer near Jordanelle Reservoir.

A leucistic deer also was spotted near Park City in 2012 and 2013. An albino moose was reported in the Park City area in 2008.

Josh Mooney of Delta was hunting elk in southern Utah last fall when they came across a large group of does. Something at the back of the herd seemed a little out of place.

"I saw something running behind a deer. I thought it was a goat at first because it was white and brown and gray," Mooney said. "I tried to get some pictures, but it was too dark."

The Mooneys returned three nights in a row to check out the piebald fawn. They spotted the multicolored youngster again a couple of weeks later during the general season rifle hunt with its normally colored twin.

"Lots of fun following it around like that," Mooney said. "I hope to see it this year."

Jim Heffelfinger, a big game biologist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department recognized as an albino specialist, has reported that albinism appears once in every 17,000 people. The trait seems to happen once in every 30,000 deer (mule and whitetail), he said.

White bison are sacred to many Native American tribes. And controversy has erupted on the Internet in recent years as hunters posted pictures with white, leucistic and piebald big game animals they had killed.

Spotting the white doe was particularly special for the Elders.

Kaitlyn inherited the camera of a beloved uncle who passed away last fall. She was out taking pictures for a photography class when she managed to snap the pictures while out with her grandparents, Bob and Katie.

"He would joke that he had to watch his camera around me because I kept taking it," the 7th grader said. "It really started when he and I were trying to find a deer around our campsite and we went on an adventure. I started taking pictures and it was really fun."

Twitter: @BrettPrettyman —

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