JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — An all-white buck has been spotted across the Tri-Cities over the last week, and wildlife officials believe it is not a native species.
News Channel 11 viewers have managed to snap photos and videos of the deer in areas like Johnson City and Jonesborough. Viewer Ken Vest captured the following photos in Johnson City near Interstate 26 and Unaka Avenue.
Other videos posted to social media show the buck in areas near N Roan St. in Johnson City and New Hope Rd. in Jonesborough.
Matt Cameron, spokesperson for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), told News Channel 11 that the buck appears to be an albino fallow deer from a captive herd.
Fallow deer differ from Tennessee’s native white-tailed deer in several ways. Fallow deer are not native to North America and have a generally shorter and stockier build than white-tailed deer.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, adult fallow deer also typically have white spots on each side along with a black line down their backs, whereas only white-tailed fawns have spots and do not have the black line down their backs. In the case of the white deer spotted in the Tri-Cities, however, the telling sign is the antlers.
Fallow bucks have antlers that are distinctly flattened or palmated, compared to the white-tailed antlers which are much more narrow and generally more vertical.
According to the Nature Conservancy, fallow deer are often kept by individuals due to their docile nature and ability to level in close proximity to humans. The Nature Conservancy has also noted other examples across the U.S. of fallow deer escaping from enclosures or farms.
The TWRA classifies fallow deer as a Class III species, meaning regulation of the species is the responsibility of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. Cameron told News Channel 11 that as of Monday, the Department of Agriculture had been notified of the incident in the Tri-Cities.
According to Cameron, if the white deer was directly purchased and imported to Tennessee, its owner would be required to have a permit or authorization from the Department of Agriculture. In order to do so, owners must meet several requirements. However, Cameron said if the deer was purchased at an exotic auction or bought from someone within the state, finding the owner could prove difficult.
The TWRA does not have a record of a licensed hunting preserve in the area that would contain fallow deer, which Cameron said most likely means that if the one seen roaming free was legally possessed, it would require a special permit from the Department of Agriculture.
News Channel 11 reached out to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and received the following response:
“We don’t license or permit individual captive cervid animals or premises.”Tennessee Department of Agriculture
Cameron added that if it discovered that the fallow deer was intentionally released in the area, then the TWRA would have jurisdiction due to an unauthorized release of the species. The TWRA would also have jurisdiction over the matter if the buck escaped from an unpermitted preserve.
Unless either of those circumstances is applicable, Cameron said jurisdiction falls under the Department of Agriculture for the possession, importation and propagation of Class III species.
Tennessee encountered a similar situation in West Tennessee in 2022, Cameron said. The Department of Agriculture was notified and provided information by the TWRA regarding an escaped animal. The owners were contacted and the issue was resolved in that instance, Cameron said.
True albino white-tailed deer in Tennessee are protected by state law. By the TWRA’s standards, a true protected albino must have a lack of pigment in the skin and hair and also have pink eyes. However, since the recently spotted white deer is considered an exotic species, it would not receive that same protection.
Cameron told News Channel 11 that according to the Department of Agriculture, if an escaped animal is causing damage to someone’s property, the property owner does have the right to euthanize that animal.