Albino groundhog moves into couple’s yard

At first glance, it looks like a photo of Noah (see right), Oxford’s famous one-eyed groundhog who made weather predictions from 1999 until his death in April 2002.
But careful examination revealed it’s actually a picture of a very rare albino groundhog discovered June 22 by Oxford residents Dennis and Vicky Winkler, who live on Mill Pond Dr., east of Newman Rd. and south of Drahner Rd.
‘We spotted a white, fluffy thing in the backyard,? Vicky said. ‘We thought it was a poodle, then we thought it was a cat, then we thought maybe it was a big rat.?
Dennis got out his binoculars and identified the mystery creature, with its white hair and pink/red eyes, as an albino groundhog.
‘We see him everyday now. We see him in the morning and in the evening,? Vicky said. ‘I think it’s living in the yard somewhere either under the shed or in the culvert by the mailbox.?
Even though it’s ‘critter-proofed,? the albino groundhog apparently likes to hang out around the couple’s vegetable garden.
Vicky suspects he ‘peers in? and ‘salivates.?
Albinism is a rare condition that occurs when an animal inherits either a single genetic trait or set of genetic traits that interrupt production of the pigment melanin.
Melanin is the primary pigment that determines the color of a animal’s skin, fur, hair, scales, feathers and eyes.
Lacking melanin, albino animals can appear either all white (such as this groundhog) or partly white. Their eye color is usually either deep pink or icy blue.
‘A true albino lacks pigment throughout their entire body,? said Mike Champagne, director of the Seven Ponds Nature Center in Dryden.
While albino animals are certainly not an everyday occurrence, it appears albino groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, might be even rarer.
‘I’ve worked in nature centers for 35 years and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a report of an albino groundhog,? said Champagne, noting he’s seen or heard of albino robins, squirrels, raccoons, whitetail deer and skunks.
‘I don’t know what the exact odds (of an albino groundhog) are, but it’s pretty unusual.?
The only people who might not find an albino groundhog unusual are the folks up in the Canadian community of Wiarton in Bruce County, Ontario.
Over the years, they’ve celebrated Groundhog Day with three albino groundhogs. The first was named Wiarton Willie and he lived 22 years. His successors Wee Willie and Wee Willie 2 were also albino woodchucks.
The Winklers aren’t the least bit bothered by their new summer guest and have no intention of trying to expel him.
‘We’re happy to have him around,? Vicky said. ‘He hasn’t caused any problems so far.?
They’ve even named him ‘Gobi.?
‘It’s a combination of groundhog and albino,? Vicky explained. ‘This guy’s pretty special.?
For those thinking about trapping the little fella, so Oxford can once again have a Groundhog Day festival, you should be aware that such an act would be illegal.
Wild animals are protected by state regulations and may only be kept by those who are licensed as rehabilitators through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
In addition to being illegal, the keeping of wild animals by those who are untrained/unlicensed often results in the death of the animals, according to the Michigan Humane Society.
Other dangers of handling wild animals include rabies, distemper, parasites and mange.