Protecting America’s Smallest Deer

Brian Hires, USFWS

The Key deer is America’s smallest deer and is found only in the lower Florida Keys, including at the National Key Deer Refuge.

Key Deer Fawn by Noni Cay

When Key deer were listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1967, there were fewer than 50 remaining in the wild. This was largely due to hunting and loss of habitat. Since that time, conservation efforts and diverse collaborations between the Service, state of Florida, local stakeholders and citizens have helped turn things around for the deer. Today there is a sustainable population of 800 -1,000 Key deer.

What threats do Key deer face ?

Approximately 75% of the Key deer population is concentrated on Big Pine and No Name keys. The high density of deer close to communities, development and roads on these islands results in motor vehicle collisions, especially at night when the deer are more active.

Human interactions with deer, such as illegal feeding, have also conditioned many deer to approach and rely on humans. This leads to harmful habits and conditions for the Key deer. Please help us spread the word about how maintaining a healthy deer population important depends on not feeding them.

A Key deer eats at one of the medication stations. Photo by Kate Watts, USFWS

Disease and epidemics, such as the New World screwworm outbreak in late 2016 and early 2017 also threaten the deer. In total 135 deer were lost due to the screwworm outbreak. While screwworms have been eradicated, there remains much work to do to in conserving Key deer.

The fawning season, which will begin any day now and last through the end of the summer, represents an especially vulnerable time for the deer. During this period, we will continue to closely monitor Key deer populations to ensure there are no additional outbreaks. This includes daily surveillance of radio-collared deer and roadside monitoring. We will also continue to support the release of millions of sterile screwworm flies through April 25. The release of sterile flies has contributed significantly to the eradication of the screwworm and prevented their return.

Key Deer Fawn by Noni Cay

Rising sea levels also threaten not just the Key deer but all of the plants, animals and people that call the Florida Keys home. In the long-term, the Service will continue to work with our local and federal partners to manage and improve Key deer habitat for the benefit of the many plants and wildlife species that share its habitat.

Brian Hires, USFWS

About the National Key Deer Refuge

Brian Hires, USFWS

The National Key Deer Refuge complex supports a lot of important wildlife besides deer. The complex includes Key West National Wildlife Refuge, Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge, and Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge. In total, the refuges are home to more than 21 species of plants and wildlife that are protected under the Endangered Species Act, including the American crocodile, Lower Keys marsh rabbit, Eastern indigo snake, silver rice rat, Bartram’s hairstreak butterfly, Key Tree cactus and Florida Semaphore cactus. It is also home to 250 resident and migratory birds and 40 different species of reptiles.

Brian Hires, USFWS

The refuges also protect three rare and threatened habitats, including the Pine Rockland habitat, tropical hardwood hammocks and freshwater wetlands. Learn more about the fascinating wildlife & habitat that can be found at the refuge complex.

Written by Brian Hires, USFWS Public Affairs Specialist

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