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Tiny key deer overwhelm their habitat

  |   May 8, 2003 at 3:40 PM
BIG PINE KEY, Fla., May 8 (UPI) -- The tiny key deer, only a little over two feet tall, are doing so well on Big Pine Key, wildlife officials will introduce them out to other islands, a conservationist said Thursday.

There were only about 25 of them in the 1950s, but with the proper care, the population has grown to 800.

Since things are getting a little crowded on Big Pine Key, and nearby No Name Key, where they also are found, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will begin moving eight of them to Sugarloaf Key next week, and eight more to Cudjoe Key in the coming year.

"The animals are eating themselves out of house and home. We're losing plants and they're becoming pests," said Bill Miller, deputy project leader at the National Key Deer Refuge.

"This will help spread the population," he said Thursday.

He said they expect to have a population of about 30-40 on the two islands, while the deer population reduces naturally on Big Pine and No Name.

They will be trapped with nets and moved by truck. A similar operation has been tried before but was foiled by the deer's homing instinct and the animals' ability to swim. In other words, they came back.

This time they will trap young males who haven't established a territory yet and pregnant does. The theory on the does is that the fawns born on Sugarloaf Key will consider it their home and their mothers won't want to leave them.

Environmentalists support the move but homeowners on Sugarloaf Key and Cudjoe Key oppose it. They are afraid the always-hungry deer with destroy their gardens and bring unwanted land-use restrictions.

"They ought to leave the deer where the deer want to stay and keep them healthy, instead of driving residents crazy," said Monroe County Commissioner George Neugent. "I'm a big fan of the deer, but common sense has to play a role in the process."

Key deer, related to the Virginia white-tailed deer, are descendants of deer trapped on the keys when the Ice Age ended, raising the water level and breaking the keys up into a string of islands.

They developed a tolerance for salt water, lowered their birth rate and shrank. They are not found anywhere else on earth.

heir height is 24-48 inches and they weigh 45-65 pounds. A big buck can weigh as much as 75 pounds.

Topics: Bill Miller
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