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Rare white moose sighting near Delta thrills tourists, thousands of virtual visitors

Photo courtesy of Tim Barnes

A white moose that’s been hanging around Delta Junction for the past few years made another cameo appearance last week at a local bed and breakfast. The latest sighting generated some Internet buzz, when photos of the animal and its calf were posted to a social-networking site. And it’s led a local game biologist to again consider whether it’s an albino or just a colorless cow.

When Rick and Bonnie Stillie opened the Alaska Garden Bed and Breakfast, they didn’t realize that one of the regular visitors would be a female white moose that’s been wandering around the Tanana Loop for about four years now.

Credit Photo courtesy of Steve DuBois
The white moose's mother is a normally pigmented brown moose, as shown in this photo taken in 2010 by Steve DuBois, a local wildlife biologist.

Rick says he and Bonnie were first introduced to moose about three years ago, when they got a call one morning from their son, who was living in a house across the way from theirs.
“Our son called us up from the house over there and said, ‘You won’t believe this, but there’s a white moose over here, a young calf,’” he said.
Rick says the moose soon wandered closer to their house.
“She was browsing right out here in the woods,” he said. “So we watched her, took pictures.”
Fast forward to last March, when the white moose, now a fully grown cow, paid another visit to the Stillies’ B&B.
“She was right here in front of our door here, in front of the house,” he said.
The Stillies say that visit gave them a chance to get a good look at her – up close and personal.
“Her coat was just gorgeous – beautiful,” Rick said. “It’s like she had been shampooed, conditioned. It was just a beautiful coat. Just absolutely gorgeous.”
“It was gleaming in the sun,” Bonnie said.
Rick says that’s when he concluded “She’s not albino. She’s a regular cow.”
Or, is she? That’s a question that Steve DuBois, a recently retired Delta-area Fish and Game Department wildlife biologist, has been trying to answer for a few years now.

“Well we’re not sure if it’s an albino, or if it’s just a white-pigmented moose,” he said. “The Stillies say it has brown eyes. They’ve seen is as close as 10 feet, according to Mrs. Stillie. But looking at photos of it, it has pink skin around its nostrils.”
DuBois says he took a closer look over the past few days at some photos he’s taken of the animal over the years, and he now believes that its eyes are blue. So, he’s now inclined to think it is an albino.
Regardless, he says a white moose, whether albino or not, is a rare sight.
“Well, I’m certainly not an expert on the rate of albinism, or non-albinistic white moose, but I know in my 30-some years flying moose surveys with Fish and Game, and looking at thousands and thousands of moose, I’ve never seen one before,” DuBois said. “So, they’re definitely uncommon.”
That’s why the latest sighting of the white moose in the area has again drawn media attention – both old and new media.
This and other stories in the local paper and the Fairbanks newspaper were sparked by some photos that were taken by members of a family from Illinois who were staying at the B&B and were thrilled to see the animal when they woke up on Sept. 1 – and this time, she was accompanied by a little brown calf.
The family members snapped photos of the white moose and her conventionally colored offspring, and shared the shots with the Stillies, who then posted them to the business’s Facebook page.
Rick says the first photo of the young white moose posted to the B&B’s site two years ago generated queries from all over.
“We’d posted on our website pictures of the white moose, and we’d had people calling actually from all over the world – several people who called and asked if they could see the white moose then they’re here,” he said. “Of course, y’know, you can’t say say ‘I’ve got the white moose tied up outside.’ ”
Rick says last week’s Facebook drew an even stronger response. More than 26,000 people from all over took a look at the photos online in the first 24 hours after they was posted. On Monday, Bonnie says that number had grown to over 49,000.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.