Off the southern tip of Florida lies a string of islands known as the Keys. These islands are home to a unique creature called the key deer, Odocoileus virginianus clavium, which is a subspecies of the wide spread white-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus. The key deer is the smallest of all the subspecies of white-tailed deer and is currently listed as endangered (Watts).

According to recent surveys key deer populations are estimated around 600-700 individuals with 75% of these located on Big Pine Key and No Name Key (Parker). These two keys happen to be the largest islands amongst the key deers current distribution, which is roughly 20-25 islands. On the outer islands populations are extremely small. For example, Howe Key is home to 15-16 deer while Ramrod Key and Water Key each have less than 5.

Key deer numbers were originally reduced by the development of the Florida keys. Today, however, the largest threat to these tiny deer are collisions with vehicles. Deer-vehicle collisions make up over 50% of all key deer mortalities (Parker 2). These collisions are being reduced however.

A project along US 1, the major roadway through the keys, was started to reduce the number of deer-vehicle collisions, 92% of which are fatal for the deer. The project created underpasses to allow the deer to travel back and forth without crossing the road and risking collisions with passing traffic. Recently a team of researchers from Texas A&M conducted a study of these underpasses and discovered these underpasses were in fact being used and had significantly reduced the number of collisions between key deer and vehicles (Parker 2). With these reductions in collisions key deer populations have increased on the islands of Big Pine and No Name keys.

Actually, the populations on these two keys have become so large they need to be reduced. Relocations to the outlying islands, which have considerably lower populations, are necessary (Parker). All of this has led to discussions of possibly reclassifying the key deer to threatened rather than endangered (Watts).

While I have yet to seen a key deer during my travels through the florida keys I am hopeful that one day I will. The North American model of wildlife conservation, a topic for future discussion, has been extremely effective in the protection and recovery of wild species. While the key deer remain threatened I trust in the model and our wildlife agencies to protect this unique animal.

References:

Parker, Israel et al. “Evaluation of the efficacy of Florida key deer translocations.” Journal of Wildlife Management. 72 (2008): 1069-1075

Parker, Israel et al. “Effects of US 1 project on Florida key deer mortality.” Journal of Wildlife Management. 72 (2008): 354-359

Watts, Dominique et al. “Distribution and abundance of endangered Florida key deer on outer islands.” Journal of Wildlife Management. 72 (2008): 360-366

Advertisements