Saturday, September 22, 2007

Key Deer

Here in the Florida Keys there is a species of deer unique to the area called Key Deer. They are basically a sub-species of the white-tailed deer I've seen millions of back in the mountains of VA, only smaller. Their growth was stunted, I assume because of a lack of food and habitat, and they have been endangered for some time now. Most of them are on Big Pine Key and No Name Key, and some have also been relocated to Sugarloaf Key and Cudjoe Key in an effort to preserve the species. Many are killed each year on the roads of the Keys, resulting in lower speed limits and many warning signs on Big Pine.

I was planning to write about the fight to protect them, likening the effort to what you see in SW Florida with the manatees. Driving through Big Pine can take what seems like hours, with the lowered speed limit and resulting congestion. I've spent some time in Marco Island and the Everglades City area, and heard many fishermen and boaters complain loudly about the many restrictions and difficulties they face due to the manatee's endangered status. Like those fishermen, I was probably more annoyed by the presence/consequences of the deer than I was motivated to protect them. Today I rode my bike all around Big Pine and No Name, and have changed my tune.

Riding from US1 through Big Pine and across the bridge onto No Name, I encountered at least a dozen Key Deer - and this was during the afternoon, I'm sure I would have seen several more had it been earlier or later in the day. All were on or near the road, and were only moderately spooked by my presence. Staring into the eyes of the deer, you can't help but appreciate them. So, feeling better about the efforts to protect them and by extension better about myself, I headed back toward home. Then I saw what fully completed my evolution of understanding the Key Deer's fight for life.
Two deer crept out from the thick brush. As I stopped, the first one crossed the road in front of me. The second stood still, seemingly a little bit more spooked by a guy on a bike. When it tried to cross, it fell. It stood back up, took a step or two, then fell again. No it wasn't a baby, struggling to find its legs and take its first steps - it had been hit by a car, and its leg was badly injured.

Watching it struggle across the street was the hardest thing I've had to do since I moved to the Keys. You won't hear me complain about the Key Deer anymore.

Now - about those manatees...

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