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Endangered Species in the U.S. - Key Deer
Endangered species and conservation
We’re always hearing about endangered species in Africa, but the United States has a fairly long list of endangered animals. Of course, there are other endangered species other than animals in the U.S., including numerous plant forms. Good or bad, most people don’t seem to be as concerned with threatened or endangered plants as they are with endangered animals. This is usually even more evident when the endangered species is cute, cuddly, or otherwise attractive. I think the Key deer would definitely fit into this category. These are beautiful animals, and they’re harmless and meek, and yes – they’re on the endangered species list.
Most Americans are familiar with the white-tailed deer. The Key deer is a sub-species of the whitetail. In appearance, it’s basically the same as a whitetail, but it’s smaller. A male whitetail can weigh over 300 pounds, while a typical male Key deer will weigh only 60-70 pounds and stand just thirty inches at the shoulder. Females, or does, are even smaller.
Key deer live in the Florida Keys, on Sugarloaf, Cudjoe, Big Pine, Little Pine, Middle Torch, Little Torch, West Summerland, and Howe. Although these islands are their regular haunts, when fresh water supplies are scarce, they might wade or swim to other nearby islands in their search for drinking water. Most of the Key deer population is concentrated on Big Pine Key.
The Tale of an Endangered Species
Key deer have inhabited this area for thousands of years, before the keys were islands. When ice from the most recent ice age melted and filled the seas, the deer were trapped on the small islands. They became a food supply for Native American tribes, and when European explorers landed on the islands, the Key deer provided them with food. As nearby lands became more settled and more populated, Key deer were an easy target, and hunting was often unregulated.
As early as 1939, conservationists were alarmed by the dwindling number of Key deer, so hunting these endangered animals was made illegal. Unfortunately, illegal hunters paid little attention to the law. That, along with continued destruction of the deer’s habitat, just about succeeded in making the Key deer extinct. By 1955, there were only about two dozen Key deer left. The establishment of the National Key Deer refuge has helped increase the population, but it’s not a panacea.
Why Key Deer are an Endangered Species
Exact numbers of surviving Key deer are debated, but no one argues that they’re an endangered species. Present estimates range from 300 to 800 animals. Many conservationists believe that the Endangered Species Act has done little to protect these endangered animals.
Why are Key deer an endangered species? The chief answer to this question is man. As the Keys have become more populated, the deer are squeezed into smaller and smaller areas. I’ll give you an example to illustrate this point: In the past fifty years, the human population of Big Pine Key has grown from seven to over 4,000. As the human population increases, the Key deer lose their habitat. As the deer population becomes more concentrated, there’s more competition for food, and the gene pool becomes smaller. In such conditions, diseases can run rampant.
Roads and highways are especially dangerous for Key deer. In any given year, almost fifty Key deer are killed by cars and trucks. And some experts think this is a conservative estimate – it doesn’t take into consideration the deer that are injured by vehicles and die later as a result.
Dogs are another problem. A large human population often goes hand in hand with a large canine population – we humans love our pet dogs. The small size of Key deer makes them especially susceptible to dog attacks, and attacks on fawns and young deer are especially devastating.
The Importance of Conservation
The list of endangered species in the United States is quite lengthy. It includes mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. Several marine animals are also endangered, and there are many plants on the list of endangered species. The survival of mankind is intricately linked to the survival of the earth’s plants and animals. The disappearance of one seemingly unimportant endangered species has the capability of affecting many other species. We need to expand our conservation efforts to save our native plants and animals and the land itself. If we fail to do this, man could wind up on the list of endangered species.