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Brilliantly White Moose Photographed in Sweden

It took a local politician three years to finally capture a video of the elusive ghostly creature

smithsonian.com

Just call him Ishmael.

For the last three years, nature nerd and municipal council member Hans Nilsson in Eda, Sweden, has been obsessed with finding and photographing an elusive white moose. On Friday evening, reports The Local.se, he got his wish, encountering the rare, egg-shell-colored ungulate—even recording several minutes of video. 

Nilsson found this particular moose—known as elk in Europe (long story)—wading into a stream in rural Värmland county before it stepped out of the water to browse on some shrubs. Not only is the animal’s coat bone white, even the velvet on its antlers is white, giving it a ghostly appearance.

"This white elk bull is local to the area,” Nilsson tells The Local. “I saw it the evening before too, that was the first time. On Friday evening when I shot the video everything fell into place, the location, the light and the calmness.”

As Sarah Gibbens at National Geographic reports, even though it is completely pale, the moose is not an albino, a condition that happens when an animal lacks pigment, which also results in pink eyes. This moose has regular old brown eyes, which means its unusual coloration likely stems from a recessive gene for a color variation known as piebald, which is usually white with brown spots.

The pure white coat may have also gotten a little unintended assistance from human hunters. “Hunters have chosen to not kill any moose that are light,” Göran Ericsson, a professor of elk and moose for the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences tells Gibbens. That means being light or white is a trait that protects moose from its only real predator, humans, so natural selection may favor the coloring. “It is kind of like dog breeding. They [hunters] choose to select for traits that otherwise wouldn’t have occurred.”

It's difficult to say whether the moose are actually becoming more common. But just last month, Jessica Hemlin, a resident of Munkedal in western Sweden, photographed a white moose milling around her garden, The Local reports. 

There may be up to 100 white moose in Sweden out of a total population of 400,000 animals, reports Cleve R. Wootson, Jr. at The Washington Post. White moose have also been spotted in Canada and Alaska, though wolves and bears probably make the color scheme a little more dangerous in those parts, writes Gibbens.

The moose isn’t the only washed-out animal that has made an appearance this summer. In July, a rare “pale tiger” was photographed in India. Also last month, an albino groundhog was photographed in Williamsport, Maryland. Which is a definite sign that we’ve got six more weeks till winter. Or...something like that.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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