SOKD’s response to the “Key deer have been doing just fine for thousands of years and don’t need any help” argument:
In response to our calls on social media to provide Keys wildlife with supplemental drinking water, there is always someone who brings up the argument that no matter what, the Key deer don’t need help since they have managed to survive here for thousands of years. Those believing that argument show severe lack of knowledge of the Key deer’s history, and mammal physiology. The argument is FALSE for many reasons, but here are the top ones:
Present Key deer habitat range is severely reduced and does not contain water and food resources that were, indeed, available to the deer for thousands of years: As relatively recently as the early 1700s, Key deer ranged from Key West to the Marathon key complex, with plentiful water holes, some so reliable that they were marked on seafarers’ maps to refill their own fresh water (e.g. Marathon area). So if a hurricane hit a part of the Keys and completely devastated the deer there, there were enough deer on neighboring islands to eventually repopulate the devastated area. That is not possible any more. And, as very recently as @1980, Big Pine Key deer had major fresh water drinking sources available to them that no longer exist – example is the Winn Dixie parking lot! From info given to us by a SOKD member and long time BPK resident who actually worked on the project, the area now paved over to form the shopping center contained major solution holes that had to be dredged out of organic material and then filled for stability. Soooo…the next time you go grocery shopping in BPK, remember that you are parking your car on top of what used to be one of the Key deer’s reliable drinking water supplies “for thousands of years”…until some 30 years ago.
White man nearly wiped-out the Key deer through hunting and habitat encroachment to very-near extinction: The “thousands of years” of Key deer’s surviving the region’s weather and environmental events included threats from other animals like pumas, alligators, and (in only the last few thousand years) Indians. Then all changed when white man started to colonize the Keys, and as most of us are aware, he killed (directly or indirectly) all Key deer in the world except 25-50 by @1950. How’s that for a break in the “they survived for thousands of years” argument. A handful more hunting parties and we would not be having to write this today (Thank YOU!, Jack Watson!!). The creation of Key Deer Refuges and listing Key deer as an endangered species is an obvious reaction of then-living intelligent administrators realizing that this species needs human help in exchange for human destruction.
Environmental conditions are vastly abnormal in the very limited Key deer habitat range: A screwworm epidemic, followed by one of the strongest hurricanes to hit the Keys, followed by one of the top draughts since records started in the 1800s. And now the deer have to limit their distribution to a miniscule fraction of their former habitat, with water holes paved over….Think about it…