The Key deer is one of the gentlest animals around. It’s also one of the most unlucky critters around.
The small deer get hit by cars. Shot by people.
Now they’re getting eaten alive by screwworms.
Here’s a quick look at the dangers faced by the three-foot deer that call a federal refuge home in the Keys.
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In the past few months, more than 40 Key deer were euthanized because of a New World screwworm larvae infestation where eggs lay in open wounds of an animal. Once the larvae hatch, it feeds on the deer.
With their only habitat perilously close to sea level, Key deer are on front lines of climate change. It wouldn’t take much to flood Big Pine Key — the main habitat of the diminutive creatures. If seas rose a foot, most of the north end of the refuge would be underwater.
Besides flesh-eating larvae, predators and global warming, the main killers of Key deer are automobiles. It’s common for people to want to feed the deer from their cars, which looks harmless enough but can lead to the deer becoming fearless of vehicles. There is nothing worse than a deer caught in the headlights.
These tiny critters can’t catch a break. A deer wandered into a Big Pine Key man's garden to munch on some plants. The female deer ate lead instead. The man was arrested on a felony count of killing a protected species after he shot the deer.
Where humans go, garbage follows. Litter is an issue for any wild animal, but a bag of Doritos landed one Key deer in a crummy situation, and thankfully someone got a picture.
"It must have wanted that last chip in the bottom of the bag, " a Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputy said.