Why rare white elk can be spotted in Norway’s forests

Why rare white elk can be spotted in Norway’s forests
The white elk is so rare in Norway that we don't have a photo of it. Photo: Dick Millet/Unsplash
Many hunters in Norway choose not to set their sights on the rare white elk, meaning the genetic factor that produces it can thrive.

The light-coloured variant of the animal is an unusual sight in the wild in Norway and is therefore protected in some areas near the Swedish border where hunting is permitted.

In turn, the chance of sighting a white elk is higher in these localities, according to a report by broadcaster NRK, which cited local residents as saying they regularly observe white elk.

White elk are not white due to albinism but because of a recessive gene.

“An elk being is white is similar to us humans having blue eyes. There are many of us with blue eyes here in the Nordic countries, but it is due to a factor known in technical terms as recessivity. This means that this gene is easily repressed and not dominant. Even if the mother is white, there is a very small probability that the calf will be too,” Göran Ericsson, a professor in natural ecology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, told NRK.

“It is a pigment deficiency, but in contrast to albinism these white elk are exactly the same as other elk. Classical albinism often affects other things and (individuals) don’t have as much chance of surviving or reproducing,” he also explained.

 

Although the genetics which produce the white elk are recessive, consensus over avoiding hunting elk of this particular colour may result in a higher prevalence of the recessive gene, including in regular elk.

Knut Arne Gjems, leader of the Norwegian Association of Hunters and Anglers (Norges Jeger- og Fiskerforbund), described the protection of the white elk by hunters as a “curiosity”.

“The (white) elk is not protected because it has a different colour as such, but there are several local landowners who choose to protect the white elk anyway. It's good take care of them as a curiosity,” he told NRK.

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