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Optimism for Key Deer After Hurricane Irma

A refuge for the endangered species on Big Pine Key in Florida took a direct kit, but several deer have been spotted.

By | September 11, 2017

Key deer; image from 2010FLICKR, U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICEOver the weekend, the Florida Keys bore the brunt of Hurricane Irma’s force, enduring 130 mph winds, several feet of storm surge, washed out roads, and displaced boats, RVs, cars, trees, and other debris. Among the island residents who stayed to weather the hurricane are Key deer (Odocoileus virginianus clavium), a federally endangered species numbering fewer than 1,000 individuals.

US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) staff members who run the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key have yet to return to assess the damage and see how the animals fared. Along with others in Monroe County, they were subject to an evacuation order, but will return once they get the green light.

Jeffrey Fleming, a spokesperson for the FWS Southeast Region in Atlanta, says the refuge opted to leave the animals in their environment. “They are pretty good at protecting themselves. They have been on those Keys going back to the Wisconsin Ice Age, so they know what to do,” Fleming tells The Scientist. “We really didn’t have an enormous level of concern.”

The most tangible sign of optimism came from CBS Miami reporter David Sutta, who taped four Key deer jogging alongside a debris-strewn road in Big Pine Key today (September 11).

The Keys are home to more than two dozen threatened or endangered plant and animal species, including Bartram’s hairstreak butterfly and the Lower Keys marsh rabbit. Fleming says FWS staff will be looking to see how all of them fared as soon as his colleagues can return to the islands.