Key Deer

Key Deer

Key Deer are found mostly on Big Pine Key, where herds of them roam about, fiercely protected by federal law and a very large fence along the Overseas Highway. Like other life forms that evolved on islands, Key Deer are tiny. They are only a couple of feet high and they weigh less than 75 pounds. Of course they were hunted with enthusiasm decades ago and they were almost extinct by the 1940s. There were just a few dozen of them left, which is pretty disgraceful. This disgrace, along with other miserable statistics involving the ivory-billed woodpecker in Louisiana, began the conservation movement in the United States. The Key Deer population sprang back in to existence with the help of the new Federal laws, and the local manager of the National Key Deer Refuge in the 1960s and 1970s, Jack Watson. Watson was militant about protecting the Key Deer, and took extreme, militant measures to protect them against poachers. Today, upon entering Big Pine Key a little while after the Seven Mile Bridge, headed for Key West, you’ll notice signs that require drivers to slow way down. You’ll also see a big fence that’s meant to keep the little toy deer, as they were once called, inside their preserved habitat and away from the roads. Keep your eyes peeled because they often find themselves on the road anyway. Hitting a protected animal on your vacation with your car could really have potential to ruin your whole stay here in the Keys! If you go camping at Big Pine Fishing Lodge, which borders the fence and is located just after the bridge onto the island if you’re heading south, you’ll run into them. They will walk right up to your tent site if you’re lucky. Just don’t feed them or touch them or anything else that might endanger them at all. Just admire them and shoo them away if necessary, to protect your food.

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