What Save Our Key Deer has accomplished so far:
- Conceived of and pushed for adoption of an anti-screwworm treatment program staffed by volunteers (2016)
Even before the official incorporation of Save Our Key Deer (SOKD), two of our current board members recognized the urgent need to implement an oral anthelmintic program for Key Deer when the New World Screwworm crisis was made public. They made repeated petitions about starting the treatment to state and federal agencies responsible for the Key deer and even to the Department of Agriculture, which immediately reached out to them to determine the feasibility of a program to have volunteer residents administer an oral anthelmintic drug to Key Deer. Urgent e-mails were sent to persons progressively up the administration chain all the way to Washington DC and, after much resistance, the volunteer-based Doramectin administration program was finally implemented. It resulted in an immediate sharp decrease in screwworm mortalities.
- Initiated a program to test for and monitor Key Deer for Johne’s Disease (2017 – ongoing)
“Johne’s disease”, so named after its German discoverer, Heindrich A. Johne in 1905, is a bacterial disease caused by Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis (MAP). It has been found in many ruminant animals from deer to llamas, and is a huge concern with regard to cow populations in the USA and abroad. The infection alters the animal’s intestine to the point where, despite being able to eat normally, the animal cannot properly absorb nutrients from the food, and ultimately, slowly dies of malnutrition and dehydration. At this time, there is no cure. Unfortunately, MAP was found to exist in the Key Deer population in 1996 and continues to exist in the Keys today. To monitor MAP’s location and prevalence trends, SOKD collects fecal samples on private property from deer reported to them by residents as having potential clinical signs of MAP, submits (and pays for) the samples for MAP testing, and informs US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Refuge management of any positive results.
- Pushed for immediate repairs to the wildlife exclusion fence along US-1 after hurricane Irma; regularly monitored and provisionally repaired the fencing; and convinced the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) of the importance of having a contractor re-repair the fence in 2019 (2017 – 2019)
The wildlife exclusion fence lining US-1 along its eastern entry into Big Pine Key was very badly damaged during Hurricane Irma. Searching for food and water, Key Deer entered the highway through multiple openings where damage had occurred, and began being killed in high numbers. SOKD requested immediate temporary fence repairs. This was accomplished by gaining support from the Monroe County Board of Commissioners (see SOKD’s BOCC presentation handout) and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. FDOT funded the temporary repairs and this measure has resulted in a sharp decrease in motor vehicle-related deer mortality along that part of the US-1 corridor. However, the aging temporary repairs began to fail in 2018. SOKD board members and volunteers made weekly fence patch and gap repairs and urged FDOT to do another, more solid repair round (which they ultimately did in April, 2019). The FINAL fence replacement is due to start in fall 2019.
- Worked with Sheriff’s Office to increase speed limit enforcement to decrease automobile-deer collisions (2017 – ongoing)
The leading cause of Key Deer death and injury is motor-vehicle strikes. SOKD collaborated with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office to conduct special speed limit enforcement projects within the Key Deer range. This was accomplished by creating GIS maps of motor vehicle-related deer mortality occurrences (hot spots) and analyzing high-risk time-of-day periods to advise the Sheriff’s Office best locations and time of day for increased enforcement. SOKD is continuing to work toward reducing vehicle deer strikes by involving residents in a “Slow down for Deer” roadside sign campaign, and collaborating with the Sheriff’s office on possible permanent speeding mitigation measures in the most needed areas.
- Established a “Don’t speed / Don’t feed” public education activity program (2018 – ongoing)
Save Our Key Deer has been providing ongoing public education. This is done on social media, in-person at local shopping plazas and at various public venues such as art fairs or public gatherings. We created several education materials and have direct-mailed them to over 8,000 residences and businesses within the Key Deer range. Over 50 businesses participate by either distributing or making available our educational materials. Our education partners include visitors centers, hotels, restaurants, bars, car rental businesses and even real estate offices.
- Began a long-term natural water hole salinity concentration monitoring program (2019 – ongoing)
This project aims to provide continuous valid scientific data about the status of water availability to wildlife throughout islands spanning from No Name to Sugarloaf Key. The data are made available to Refuge management and related state and federal agencies as well as the public. The project utilizes a broad network of sampling sites, some of which are on non-refuge lands and some of which lie within the Refuge. In addition to providing spatially detailed and comprehensive data on drinking water availability to wildlife in the lower Keys, this project provides the opportunity to conduct research on several related topics: 1) Using rain gauges on multiple islands and locations, the project will allow the study of how rainfall volumes affect the various water sources – e.g. how much rainfall is required to bring a particular source back to wildlife-usable range. This will, in turn, allow better understanding and estimation of water resource availability in the future; 2) Using trail cameras at selected water sources, this project will aim to provide direct video evidence of the deer’s (and potentially other wildlife’s) acceptance of the different salinity concentrations as the water sources cycle through their annual range, thus providing updated data on what salinities are acceptable to the deer.
Some projects we are working on:
- Trying to convince FDOT to erect deer warning signs on US-1 on islands west of Big Pine Key that also have populations of Key Deer.
We are continuing our efforts to have FDOT erect deer warning signs along US-1 between Little Torch and Sugarloaf Keys where Key Deer live (and get hit by cars). Most tourists and many residents don’t even know Key Deer exist in those places. We have the support of the Sheriff’s Office, and the need for this signage is directly stated in the Refuge’s Comprehensive Plan, although there has been no follow-through. Dealing with FDOT on this issue has turned out to be a very drawn-out process.
- Working to establish a Key Deer rehabilitation program that could aid with minimally injured deer and abandoned fawns.
SOKD has been trusted by many Keys residents to assess sick and injured Key Deer. We share our evaluation with local veterinarians and the USFWS refuge manager, and have, on a few occasions, been given permission to coordinate veterinarian assessment and treatment. This is a very tricky topic, as there exists no Key Deer rehab facility, either federal or private! It is perhaps the most controversial topic between residents and the Refuge. While there is ample private funding available, the “Endangered Species Act” status greatly complicates private efforts, and both federal and state agencies seem to have no interest. SOKD continues to work on options to establish a private facility that could, at least, handle simple rehab cases, and take care of abandoned fawns, which is presently done across the U.S.