One moose is rare enough, but seeing two, both white as a ghost, will have you rubbing your eyes. On October 17, a pair of snow-white moose—an adult female and calf—were seen grazing along Highway 101 near Foleyet, Ont. This is the second time in two years these moose have been spotted.
Their history in the area, however, stretches back much farther than 2018. TVO reported that Jane Armstrong, a resident of Foleyet, first spotted white moose in October 1990 while paddling on Groundhog Lake. And her father claimed to have seen white moose nearly half a century earlier.
“There have been reported observations of white-coloured moose in the Foleyet area over the last 40 years,” Jolanta Kowalski, a media relations officer for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, writes in an email.
Before you jump to conclusions, these moose aren’t ghosts. They aren’t even albino. Their colouring is due to a recessive gene trait called the Armstrong White Gene Strain, named after Jane Armstrong. This means that moose in the area pass the recessive gene down to their offspring, which explains why so many white moose have been spotted near Foleyet.
Moose are especially active during the fall months with bulls seeking mates for breeding. They also tend to congregate around roadsides at this time of year because they “provide good foraging habitat for moose due to the presence of grasses and shrub communities,” Kowalski writes. “The combination of easily accessible forage, and increased movement by moose during this time of year may increase the chances of seeing moose along roadsides.”
White moose, in particular, stand out against the colourful forest background, making them easy to spot.
The moose’s pale colouring has earned it the nickname “ghost moose” or “spirit moose” among local Indigenous peoples. They claim the animals are sacred, representing ancestors reborn, and will not hunt or harm them.
In 2005, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry deemed predominately white moose—over 50 per cent white—protected in the areas surrounding Kapuskasing, Timmins, Foleyet, and Chapleau. “It is illegal to hunt a predominantly white coloured moose,” Kowlaski writes. This law was passed “in recognition of [the moose’s] cultural and spiritual significance to First Nation communities, and for the purpose of enhancing wildlife viewing opportunities within the local Foleyet area.”
Even with the added protection, white moose are still extremely rare. If you’re ever lucky enough to stumble across the wraith-like presence of one, don’t be spooked. Just enjoy the wonders of nature.