Help from both sides of the fence

Help from both sides of the fence

A key deer update with biologist Chad Anderson

Playing on the One Human Family slogan, the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refugerecently founded the website to help all animals thrive and survive on our fragile island habitat.

The National Key Deer Refuge was established in 1957 to protect and preserve Key deer and other wildlife resources in the Florida Keys. The refuge is located in the lower Florida Keys and currently consists of approximately 9,200 acres of land that includes pine rockland forests, tropical hardwood hammocks, freshwater wetlands, salt marsh wetlands, and mangrove forests. These natural communities are critical habitat for hundreds of endemic and migratory species including 17 federally listed species such as Key deer, lower Keys marsh rabbit, and silver rice rat.

Key deer like this one who tried to nab some bits of Sunday brunch earlier this year at Little Palm, though beautiful, only survive through supplemental feeding which jeopardizes the health of the endemic and endangered animals.

According to Refuge Biologist Chad Anderson, one of the most noticeable challenges to the Key Deer population this year has been multiple incidents of loose dogs threatening the endangered species.

“One thing that’s really been at the forefront as why responsible pet ownership is important…when you share borders with wildlife management area, we need help from people on the other side of the fence,” Anderson explained, adding that three key deer deaths have been confirmed as the result of unsecured domestic dogs. “There are legal means in place for us, so even though that’s not part of the management plan, it’s important. When we start asking around, whoever was leaving their dogs out at night simply stopped doing it.”

Thus the formation of focuses on two primary goals: keeping wildlife wild and protecting pets.

“A lot of people can’t perceive that their pets can cause harm in the natural environment,” the biologist and self-professed animal lover noted. “As many incidents as we can prevent, the better for everybody. It’s that extra level of responsibility.”

Anderson also noted that with the record-setting drought earlier this year, concerned residents will often begin placing water out for key deer.

“They’re amazingly resilient and have survived on these islands for years,” he explained. “They can survive off brackish waters we might not drink. They survive off a lot of fresh water marshes of which people are unaware. Really, watering is just as bad as feeding. ‘Lumpy jaw’ is the result of a bacteria that makes deposits in the deer jaws. It can be treated, but is very contagious and can eventually lead to death.”

“People want to help, and they want to do the right thing, but we don’t want them to inadvertently be part of the problem.”

As residents of a fragile island ecosystem, there’s also a special responsibility to care for the special resources around us, Anderson added.

To learn more about this fragile species and their history in the Florida Keys, visit To learn more about the partnership for betterment of all animals, both domestic and wild, visit

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