Dear Dan and the Media:
This is in response to a letter sent from USFWS via e-mail on 5/5/2018 and subsequently distributed as a news-release. It is addressed to “Dear Save Our Key Deer and other Concerned Citizens”, and the e-mail explains it is a “response…to a recent inquiry”. For the record, Save Our Key Deer (SOKD) has made no inquiry or had any direct communication with the Refuge for the past several months. From the recipient e-mail list, it appears the letter was actually meant as a response to a Sierra Club “call-to-action” sent out on 4/29/2018, asking people to call and e-mail Refuge management and USFWS Ecological Services to demand they put out drinking water for “the suffering deer”. While fully supportive of the main premise, SOKD did not participate in that campaign.
As you know, following your announcement last October that the Refuge will discontinue in-the-field water salinity testing within a month, SOKD took it upon itself to continue monitoring wildlife drinking water status on several Keys. Our tests in late January showed very limited water resources on No Name Key, and NO sources of palatable water along Long Beach Rd and the New Harbor Islands. We sent the field testing data and accompanying photographs to you and Ecological Services via two e-mails on 1/24/2018 and 1/28/2018, along with our plea to consider the test results, in view of a developing severe drought, in your wildlife management activities, particularly on Long Beach. We also offered to share data from additional locations and future surveys. Not having received even a courtesy acknowledgement of the sent information and collaboration offer from any of the USFWS recipients, SOKD stopped including them in future salinity survey updates, although they were made publicly available through our web site.
Our biggest concern linked to the natural drinking water shortage was along Long Beach and the neighboring islands due to the well-documented prevalence of Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis (MAP) within that sub-herd. MAP (also known as Johnes disease) is, as you know, an incurable and ultimately lethal disease which had, pre-Irma, been believed to be confined to the Long Beach and NH-Islands region, leaving the main herds on BPK, NNK and other large islands MAP-free. SOKD was and is very actively involved in monitoring MAP occurrence among the Key deer and, before the hurricane, actually began work on having the corporate owner of Little Palm Island (scientifically documented as being linked to the most number of MAP cases) eliminate a major source of the bacterium on the island. Just prior to the hurricane, SOKD received (U. Wisconsin Johnes Research Center) results from 2 Long Beach deer that we suspected of having the disease…both fecal samples came back positive. Neither of those deer have been sighted after the storm, and while we estimate 50-60% of the Long Beach/NH-Islands deer population died in the storm (likely the highest mortality rate in all the habitat), it is unknown if the two (and other MAP-infected deer) perished or relocated to main-island BPK due to lack of drinking water along Long Beach – thus spreading the disease into the main herd. For that reason, already back in January, we called on residents and the Refuge to provide drinking water to wildlife to prevent (or at least minimize) migration of sick animals to non-infected areas. In our eyes, a pro-active action like that far supersedes being reactive later, especially when dealing with an incurable killer like MAP…on a species with some 500-700 left (upper 90%confidence interval BTW!). In recent weeks we have received photos from BPK residents of two deer (not the same as the Long Beach ones) showing possible physical signs of MAP. We are coordinating with those resident to collect samples for testing. Let’s hope they come back negative…
While the Refuge continues to rebuff any SOKD efforts to establish a collaborative work relationship, we continue to be open to all such opportunities.
Dr. Jan Svejkovsky
Save Our Key Deer