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A lighter shade of Bambi


White ghosts have recently been spotted roaming in San Ramon’s Norris Canyon. Wait, no, those are white goats on the hillsides. No, that’s not right either.

“They’re almost certainly nonnative white fallow deer,” Save Mount Diablo’s Seth Adams says of the mysterious creatures. “This is the first we’ve heard of them in Contra Costa County.”

The newly sighted deer were at first mistaken by some onlookers, as well as by biologists, for goats, because their heads look boxy and the young males have horns rather than antlers. According to Adams, our native deer are typically more slender animals with much bigger ears.

White fallow deer, a species native to the Mediterranean and Asia Minor, are known for problems they have caused at the Point Reyes National Seashore. The deer at Point Reyes were purchased from the San Francisco Zoo in the 1940s and released by a local landowner prior to the establishment of the park. The population has grown to 1,100 there, and naturalists believe the deer are disrupting the natural ecosystem by damaging scarce riparian and woodland habitats and competing for food with, and introducing diseases to, the native population.

How the fallow deer got to San Ramon is anyone’s guess—we know they didn’t take BART—but wildlife biologist Malcolm Sproul says he’s not too concerned about them causing problems here.

“If these are the white fallow deer, they’re clearly not widespread in Contra Costa County,” says Sproul, who is president of Save Mount Diablo’s board of directors. “If they are fenced in, I have a feeling they won’t be a big problem.” 

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