Saving America’s Micro Deer
The Key deer (Odocoileus virginianus clavium) is the smallest whitetail subspecies topping out at 60 pounds and living exclusively in their namesake islands on the Florida coast.
Seeing a herd of Key deer on my honeymoon in 1999 was a special moment that fulfilled a childhood dream born out of a fascination with all things wildlife—especially the rare and unusual. Seeing them last July during a Florida fishing expedition was just as exciting.
I would love to share photos of the massive (by Key deer standards) buck from that expedition, but they were destroyed along with many others when Hurricane Ike ravaged my hometown in 2008. Just as those photos washed away with storm surge, a series of hurricanes have played havoc on Key deer.
Most recently, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) officials, Hurricane Irma in 2017 killed 21 deer with an additional dozen killed in the chaotic aftermath. With the latest estimates showing only 949, that hurts.
For perspective, I have hunted on a single 5,000 acre low-fence Texas ranch with more whitetails than that.
Additionally, an old foe last seen in the U.S. more than 30 years ago, hit the Keys hard in 2016. But Texans came to the rescue.
“Screwworms infested the population, which is spread across more than 20 islands. It led to 135 Key deer deaths, including 83 that were euthanized to reduce the risk of further infection,” said Dr. Roel Lopez. “This was a significant blow to a species, which is uniquely located in that area.”
Doctor Lopez is director and co-principal investigator for the Key deer study, San Antonio, a project of Texas A&M University (TAMU). TAMU, along with various agencies including USFWS, alleviated the crisis by preventive treatment and fly eradication efforts. This included feed stations lined with anti-parasitic medications and releasing 60 million sterile male screwworms to mate with wild female flies and curb reproduction.
That is a big effort for a little deer, but there is much love for them among those who understand their delicate existence. A single disease outbreak or storm could literally wipe out the population.
Then again, the species has proven resilient. The screwworms mainly took out mature males and researchers believe there are enough young bucks to replace them. At the five-year mark of the outbreak things are looking up.
Challenge Tokens For Eastern Turkey Photos
Through our Higher Calling Wildlife® outreach, we have created a new Eastern Turkey Aware challenge token.
If you have photographed eastern turkeys in East Texas or Louisiana on a game camera or by traditional photography, email the photos with the county or parish the photo was taken to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will send you one of these cool wooden challenge tokens and a special edition Higher Calling Wildlife® turkey decal.
Thanks to the National Wild Turkey Federation-Montgomery County Chapter for their help on this project.
We will share these in posts at highercalling.net and in the Texas Fish & Game e-newsletter.
Higher Calling Wildlife mentors teens facing special challenges to become wildlife conservationists. Several of the teens we work with will be promoting this challenge via social media and helping in other ways.
It’s our way of helping create a NOW generation of conservationists.
Elk in Louisiana (Cool Reader Feedback)
In last week’s Wildlife Wednesday, I wrote about elk in Texas and solicited photos and information about elk in the eastern United States.
Reader Gary Pool sent in this super cool find.
I don’t have a picture but I have a book on the history of the Wyatt Family (my maternal grandmother’s maiden name). Her Uncle, Sillenger Wyatt was interviewed by a local newspaper in Jackson Parish of Louisiana around the time of WWII. He was in his 90’s at the time and died at 102 in the late 1940s.
In it he says in response to a question about changes he had seen. He stated that before all the logging of the early 1900’s he remembered being able to SEE AN ELK OVER A MILE AWAY.
I’m sure you know north-central Louisiana is much like the Pineywoods of East Texas. I was not surprised to read that climax forests had less undergrowth and thus greater visibility and I do realize the “mile away” may not be accurate. But, ELK really got my attention.
I just thought you might find it interesting. I am in possession of the book.
If anyone has documentation or photos of free-ranging elk in Texas or anywhere east of here, please email email@example.com.
Ever feel as if something’s watching you in the woods? Well, it could be a cougar.
They are one of the most elusive predators in the world and can live in a populated area with virtually no one seeing them. In the woods, its as if they live in stealth mode.
I took this photo back in 2007 and thought I would share with you.
We are beginning to work on our 2022 Higher Calling Wildlife® annual magazine. This is a labor of love for me.
Not only do I get to write cool stories on my favorite wildlife but more than half of the content (stories, photos, artwork) comes from teens we work with in our ministry.
In the forthcoming edition, we have what I believe is the strongest collection of content we’ve produced.
Thank you for your suppor!
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