Footage of a strangely dappled deer has racked up millions of views on social media this week. (We haven't seen a coat this spectacular since "strawberry" leopards turned up in South Africa!) And while some commenters have questioned the authenticity of the viral clip, we can tell you this video is the real deal.

The star of the clip is a female white-tailed deer called "Boo", one of many taken in this year by the Fuzzy Fawn Wildlife Rescue in New York. Boo's "Dalmation chic" colouration is the result of leucism, a genetic condition that results in partial loss of the pigment melanin. The mutation is rare, but because affected animals possess an aesthetic "wow" factor, they tend to pop up in our news feeds relatively frequently.

Leucistic creatures like Boo – sometimes also referred to as "pied" or "piebald" – are different to true albino animals, which lack melanin entirely throughout their bodies, leaving them stark white and with characteristic red or pink eyes. Leucism, on the other hand, doesn't cause total pigment loss, and the animals' unaffected eyes are a clue to the nature of their genetic condition.

The mutation also results in a wide variety of patterns. Leucistic nurse sharks, for example, tend to be heavily spotted. Deer, on the other hand, show much greater variation: some are mostly white, and many sport cow-print attire.

It's estimated that fewer than two percent of white-tailed deer are leucistic, so Boo's appearance came as a surprise to her keeper, Leondra "Fuzzy" Scherer, a volunteer wildlife rehabilitator who specialises in white-tailed deer rescue and release.

The mottled orphan arrived at Fuzzy Fawn back in July after her mother was hit by a car. At just one week old, the youngster would not have survived on her own. What's more, her hind legs were heavily bowed – an abnormality commonly encountered in leucistic deer. (Their eye-catching colouration can also make animals like Boo more vulnerable to predators.) 

"Many piebald deer have other conditions," Scherer wrote on Instagram. "[These include] bowing of the nose, short legs, bowed legs, arching of the back, short lower jaw, and internal issues." 

After consulting with several local veterinarians, and her partners at Nora's Ark Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, Scherer made the decision to let the young deer develop without the aid of splints or casts. While her legs are still shorter than what we'd expect to see in a typical deer her age, Boo's condition has improved significantly.

"She grew into her legs," Scherer said. There's now hope that with continued care Boo can eventually be released back into the wild.

Boo's rise to internet stardom has been a welcome development for the rescue centre. "I'm seeing her beautiful face everywhere!" Scherer said. "Though one person called her a goat..."

An estimated 65,000 deer-car collisions occur annually in New York, and Scherer receives nearly 400 calls each year about sick, abandoned or injured deer. The oddball orphan has drawn some much-needed attention to the problem.

Social media platforms like Instagram have also proven invaluable during hectic rescue seasons. "I've been able to reach out to other rehabbers in different states," Scherer told IG World Club earlier this month. "We bounce ideas back and forth about treatments for the wildlife in our care."

Those interested in helping ailing wildlife, Scherer suggests, should reach out to the rehab centres in their local area. These facilities are often operating on shoestring budgets and donated time, and many accept supply donations. (You can donate to Fuzzy Fawn right here.)

"Keep their phone numbers on hand," she says. "Find out who handles which animals. Be prepared, and know who to call when you find wildlife in need!" 



Top header image: Daniel Arndt/Flickr