Key Deer –
saved from extinction –
This diminutive sub-species of the white-tailed deer, sometimes called the “Toy Deer,” stands 24” to 32” at the shoulder and weighs 50-75 pounds. It once lived throughout the Florida Keys but is now found primarily on Big Pine Key. The Key Deer inhabit pine forests, mangroves, and freshwater wetlands. Males live about three years while females can live to six years. Occasionally they swim between islands in search of freshwater. Their favorite foods includes mangrove tree leaves and thatch palm berries. By the 1950’s only around 50 of the little deer survived. The National Key Deer Refuge was formed in 1953 and when the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1966 the deer became one the first species protected. Now around 600-700 deer inhabit the area.
The future of the deer is far from certain and they are still listed as an endangered species. There is a continuing loss of habitat due to increased human development in the area and road traffic kills an average of 45 deer a year. They have a lack of fear of humans that draws them into communities and dangers such as free-roaming dogs. The destruction of hurricanes and the diminishment of habitat by global warming also threaten their survival. Hope lies in people being able to coexist with the little deer and there are signs of that with increased land-use regulation and habitat protection.