SOKD’s answer to how many Key Deer were left after Irma:
We keep getting this question asked, and we have reported on it many times (see our past Newsletters on www.saveourkeydeer.org ) , so here is a brief summary of our assessments:
- We have to go back about a year prior to Irma – before the previous event: Screw-worm that put a huge dent in the Key Deer population. At the initial public meeting announcing the screw-worm epidemic, the federal “official” stand was that there are @ 1000 Key Deer in the world. This figure was widely circulated in the press, but was not supported by results from previous “drive-by” surveys done by a university contractor to the government, whose methodology accuracy is, depending on who you talk to including the PI, prone to very large error margins. When challenged to provide evidence of the 1000 deer count, the Refuge forwarded a white paper from a graduate student who studied the genetic differentiation of Key Deer (whether they are becoming in-bred) and found sufficient genetic diversity to support (using the genetic model she employed) 1000 individuals. SOKD did not accept this field-work-lacking modeling approach and maintained that total Key Deer population is several hundred deer less – more in-line with the ( major error-margin-prone, as the university scientists agreed) drive-by surveys. The most likely Key Deer population prior to Screw-worm was in the upper hundreds, say 800. The Refuge counted 130-some animals dead to the screw-worm pestilence – only animals they know about, but the press took this number as the actual total. Can you imagine how many deer died in the woods unnoticed? Probably double, since neither Refuge personnel nor most residents were searching through the woods to find these unfortunate deer. So – post-Screw-worm epidemic count, let’s be optimistic and say @650 animals.
- Prior to Irma, there was calving season. Long-term studies assess overall Key Deer population growth at @ 3.5% per year which includes calving frequency as well as the greatest killer – cars. Since Irma came at the end of the 2017 calving season, we will assume on September 9, 2017, there were @673 Key Deer alive.
- Now for Irma: From our Volume 1/Number 2 Newsletter distributed on 2/2/2018: “Based on the TAMU data and interpretation, it is most reasonable to conclude – bearing in mind all the problems inherent in the survey methodology and changes in conditions affecting the surveys due to the storm – that the total Key deer loss was somewhere between 23% and 50%. What has so-far not been brought forth, however, is that, based on many physical and biological signs, the deer mortality rate was likely highly variable regionally. Based on residents’ direct observations of deer in their neighborhoods before and after the storm, as well as physical evidence of storm surge height, force and wreckage, the heaviest deer losses likely occurred on the Long Beach Rd. peninsula and neighboring islands. On the other hand, areas such as Port Pine Heights on Big Pine Key suffered much less force and damage, and deer mortality there can be expected to have been much, much lower. TAMU is planning additional surveys in the future to better define the deer population trends and storm after-effects.
- What’s the final number? As time progressed, the “official” Irma-Key Deer loss numbers kept rising…to close-in on what SOKD’s surveys predicted at first: likely average 25-30% loss. Remember that not all the deer died immediately during the storm. Some died of dehydration, some for lack of forage in the following weeks. Irma was followed by one of the severest draughts Florida has experienced. Putting all the number ranges together, SOKD believes that post Screw-worm and then post-Irma @ 450-500 Key Deer were left on Earth. However, this population is being rebuilt through an extremely tough animal.
- So…Where are we now? We’re not in a draught – unlike last year, as per a new SOKD project, most islands Key Deer call home continue to have multiple drinking water sources. You can monitor their distribution at : https://saveourkeydeer.org/water-monitoring/ The pregnant does we have seen all over look pretty good so let’s be positive and call this season a 100+ calf season (since more of the living Key deer are females and some will have twins). But many babies die soon after birth, so the real count will be sometime in August/September…let’s shoot for @ 600+ –“lived to see my first or more birthday” number. BTW…this puts us back about 10-14 years, but certainly no need to panic.
We appreciate your concern/interest!