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White Squirrels to Bring in 25,000 to Cool N.C. Town

You’ll see at least one white squirrel: non-releasable Elliott  

Olney, IL, watch your back! Brevard, NC–a longtime rival  White Squirrel Capital of the World–may be snatching the title for good. About 20,000 – 25,000 people are expected this weekend at Brevard’s 7th annual White Squirrel Festival to go on a white squirrel safari, compete with white squirrel photography, feeder-making and the “squirrel box derby.” (Well, okay, some actually come for the music.)

Normally there’s just one guy in a  squirrel suit called Woody the White Squirrel, but this year’s extravaganza will feature 250 people in white squirrel costumes dancing to BrotherBrother for five minutes Saturday afternoon to set a world record. (Coincidentally, robots in Austin will be dancing for their own record nearly simultaneously.)

“We’re really having fun with the theme,” says the guy who dreamed the whole thing up, Phil Davis. “We’re willing to be a little weird.” Brevard is joining the ranks of towns that have parties to celebrate something no one can imitate: local wildlife. So along with 32 Bald Eagle Watches, Moose Festivals and events to watch hummingbirds and bats, it’s only natural that a town with 1,000 white squirrels would flaunt it.

Many small towns–especially Olney–brag about their white squirrels. Cryptomundo lists 10 white and black squirrel cities and some try to tour them all. White squirrels, which are far more rare and exotic–breed competition that is suitably fierce and fun.

“There’s a bunch of wannabe cities,” Davis dismisses the competition. “They paint their squirrels is the rumor. We’re not in support of towns that bleach their squirrels.”

Typical pattern of Brevard, NC, white squirrel

Davis, a branding expert, said the town had an anemic monarch festival before he hit on the idea of trying a squirrel festival to coincide with more proven entertainment, a Memorial Day concert. Something about the name caught on. Now some attendees are astonished to find that white squirrels really live there. “You mean they actually exist?” they’ll ask.

“It’s primarily a music festival. They just love the fact it’s wrapped in white squirrels,” he says. “They love the magicalness of it.”

Elaborate and very cool map showing percent of white squirrels around town

But there’s plenty for people who actually want to see and celebrate the white squirrels. There are free  squirrel safaris that center around the likely ground of Brevard College. And they’re guaranteed to see at least one: Elliott, a genial white squirrel who couldn’t make it in the wild. Elliott was attacked by an adult when he was young, lost an eye and has complicated tooth problems, says wildlife rehabilitator Jennifer Burgin. Now five, Burgin feeds him a special diet by hand twice a day.

Burgin, who has been rehabbing squirrels for 20 years, likes how the town appreciates their squirrels. “They’re very serious about their white squirrels,” she says. “Everybody is very proud of them.” In 1986 Brevard banned killing, catching or hurting its squirrels. People take extra care to avoid hitting them,  says Davis, who himself rescued one from the road. “I don’t want people of gray persuasion to get angry, but white squirrels do enjoy some special protection.”

Another thing Brevard has up on Olney is a population of about 1,000 squirrels and the White Squirrel Research Institute. Founded by a former professor at the college, Bob Glesner, the institute gathers and processes an impressive set of data on white squirrel population. Local residents volunteer for an annual survey to count both the number and percentage of white squirrels.

Glesner is watching whether the population becomes fragmented, but generally thinks they’re doing okay. About 37% percent of the town’s squirrels are white overall. But around the college, where the tours go, it’s 46%. The highest is the performing arts center, where almost 9 in 10 squirrels are white.

The town is quick to point out that their white squirrels are not albinos. They have black eyes and their fur is just a color phase–a hair color, like a chocolate or yellow lab. Brevard’s squirrels have a distinct look: a darker stripe down their spine and dark frosting on the top of their head.

Davis thinks the white squirrels are just what Brevard, which sits near the border with Georgia and South Carolina, needs. “Don’t laugh,” he says. “There was another rodent that saved another city. I don’t think anybody’s laughing about Disney and Orlando.”

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More Interesting Animals You Can See Down South
Adopt a Brevard White Squirrel
Attend the World’s Biggest White Squirrel Festival in Brevard, NC

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