Thursday, February 9, 2012

National Key Deer Refuge, Florida

The Key deer is a tiny (60-75 centimeters tall) endangered deer that lives only in the Florida Keys. The current population is estimated between 600 and 750 individuals. As about 40 Key deer are killed every year in collisions with cars, their status is "threatened with extinction." I was saddened to see that not all drivers obeyed the reduced speed limit that was set up in the areas where Key deer live.

A Key deer

Key deer can be found on one of 25 islands in the Lower Keys, and this region is protected as National Key Deer Refuge. Curiously, Key deer can easily swim between the islands.
In search of Key deer, we first went to No Name Key, as the refuge website recommends starting there. However, despite spending over one hour on the island, we didn't seen any deer, big or small. Still, we enjoyed our time there quite a bit: the island was very peaceful, and there were hardly any people.
At the end of the world: No Name Key

Mangrove forest, No Name Key

A hawk, No Name Key

Funky circular seeds, No Name Key

After failing to see any Key deer on No Name Key, which is relatively sparsely populated, I thought we no longer had a chance of seeing one of those little deer on any of the other islands. Well, I forgot that we were in Florida, where animals not only don't hide from people, but instead parade in front of them.

That was the case with the Key deer as well. The very first one (out of three) that we encountered, jumped out directly in front of our car, on a heavily-used road, near the Big Pine Key visitor's center . . . Luckily, we saw it in time and didn't hurt it. It seemed completely oblivious to our presence, and it didn't even mind me getting out of the car and coming within a few meters of it.

A Key deer

I'm very happy that we encountered several Key deer as I wanted to see for myself if they are as small as the Dik-dik. They're not. They are at least twice the height, and five to ten times the weighed of the Dik-dik. In fact, a key deer looks like a juvenile of a regular-size deer, which was a bit disappointing.

In the refuge we also went on two short nature hikes: the Jack Watson and the Fred Mannillo Wildlife Trails, and we also made a short stop at the Blue Hole site. Sadly, both nature trails and the Blue Hole were disappointing, and we didn't see much wildlife there. It seems that this area was affected by fire not too long ago, which might be a reason why there weren't any animals. Maybe in a few years they will come back.

Burned palm trees

The fire exposed the intricate network of fibers in the palm's husk.
The palm's fibers

I love the color of this tree trunk

Anil carefully examines the tree