The chances of being struck by lightning? 1 in 280,000.
The chances of spotting an albino raccoon? 1 in 750,000.
Yet, last week, a La Plata County family found a rare albino raccoon, albeit dead, on their property south of Durango, out on Florida Mesa.
“It just didn’t look like anything we had seen before,” said Shanan Robinson Malone.
Malone’s dogs found the animal carcass Thursday while playing outside. When her husband, Robert, took a closer look, he at first couldn’t tell what kind of animal it was.
“He (Robert) just had a strange look on his face,” Malone said.
The family suspected it was an albino raccoon, but its large size (estimated at 35 pounds) and facial features caused them to second guess the species.
Malone posted some photos to the Durango Colorado On-Line Garage Sale Facebook group, eliciting a flurry of speculations.
Some people surmised it was a possum, or a fox, or something called a “raccoon dog.” A few even thought it could have been the legendary folklore creature chupacabra.
On Friday, the family took the animal carcass to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife office in Durango looking for a professional opinion.
Matt Thorpe, wildlife manager, confirmed: albino raccoon. Any confusion about the animal’s species, he said, was likely because the animal had been dead for a while.
“It’s pretty unusual for us to see them,” Thorpe said. “I’ve never seen one.”
Albino raccoons are especially uncommon because raccoons, being nocturnal, rely on their gray and black coat to hide from predators.
An oft-cited article from Wide Open Spaces, an online hunting and fishing publication, includes a comment from the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife that says spotting an albino raccoon is rarer than being struck by lightning.
“Many wildlife biologists around the nation agree that albinism occurs in about one (out of) every of 750,000 raccoons,” the post says. “Also, very few survive in the wild as they cannot successfully hide from predators.”
Thorpe said the raccoon found outside of Durango was probably dead for a week. There were no obvious signs of how the animal died, and too much time had passed since it was deceased to justify sending it off to be tested.
Thorpe said he was aware of only one other report of an albino raccoon in the time he’s worked at CPW.
“We got a call about a year or two ago,” he said. “People were freaked out about it, but it occurs naturally in nature.”
On Monday, several residents shared stories of similar run-ins with the supposedly evasive creature, and some even shared photos on The Durango Herald’s Facebook page.
Herald photographer Jerry McBride snapped a photo of what appeared to be an albino raccoon in 2006 while on a hike in the Hermosa area. The raccoon was seen climbing a tree with another raccoon that had normal coloring.