Description - Located slightly east of Key West, the National Key Deer Refuge was established in 1947 for the sole purpose of protecting the tiny Key deer, a descendant of the Virginia white-tailed deer. This species was near extinction, but today boasts nearly 500. Plant life, animal life and birdlife abound throughout the refuge and region. A visitor center along U.S. Highway 1 introduces visitors to the various recreation opportunities.
Copyright: Joyce Rankin - Interactive Outdoors, Inc.
Clear blue waters and colorful skies greet the tourists
- The National Key Deer Refuge consists of roughly 8,500 acres on Big Pine and No Name Keys and includes other uninhabited small surrounding islands in the lower Florida Keys. The Florida Keys are the southernmost portion of the continental United States; consequently, support floral and faunal communities not found elsewhere in the U.S.
Due to their proximity to the Caribbean, most plants in the Keys are of West Indian origin, yet most of the animals are from North America. The refuge was established with the purpose of protecting the endangered Key deer and its habitat. The Key deer is a small subspecies of the Virginia white-tailed deer and is believed to have migrated to the Keys during the last ice age. The average shoulder height of a Key deer is between 24-32", with a weight range of 45 to 80 pounds for an average adult.
When the refuge was established, the deer population was estimated at only 25-80 individuals due to hunting and changes in habitat. Today the population of Key deer is estimated to be 500+. Current threats to deer include habitat loss and vehicle collisions. Each year roughly 70% of Key deer deaths are attributed to road kill. Much of the refuge includes lands which are intermingled with residential neighborhoods; making management regimes sometimes difficult.
Many different habitats are necessary for deer foraging, social interaction, breeding, fawning, and fawn rearing. The refuge consists of habitats including the globally endangered pine rockland (slash pinelands) and tropical hardwood hammock, in addition to significant stands of freshwater, mangrove, and transitional wetlands.
Twenty-two federally listed endangered and threatened species of plants and animals are found in the National Wildlife Refuges of the Florida Keys, including 5 mammals found no where else in the world.
Recreation - Visitors to the refuge will find a variety of outdoor recreations available. A visitor center introduces tourists to the plethora of entertaining possibilities. Viewing the fabulous scenery is one of the favorite pastimes. Sunrises and sunsets are an unmatched natural attraction. Paddleboating, surf fishing, oystering, scalloping, snorkeling, hiking, and bird-watching are the predominate pleasures available year-round. The glistening turquoise warm waters embrace the lush islands. Tourists may get glimpses of dolphins, alligators, and sea turtles. Trails and designated observations sights are unfailing.
Private outfitters located along U.S. Highway 1 offer daily boating excursions into National Key Deer, Key West National Refuge, Great White Heron National Refuge and the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Trips through the shallows provide sights of lobsters, stone crabs, barracudas, stingrays, horseshoe crabs, and a profusion of resident and migratory bird species.
Climate - Southern Florida lies within a subtropical climate. It is usually hot and humid in the summer with brief afternoon thundershowers. It is not unusual for temperatures to exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit with averages reaching above 83 degrees Fahrenheit (above 29 Celsius). Winters are mild and dry with temperatures averaging above 64 degrees Fahrenheit (above 18 Celsius). The average precipitation for the southeast area is more than 60 inches per year. Hats and sunglasses are recommended throughout the year, as is the use sunscreen.
National Key Deer Refuge is located in the Florida Keys amid the southernmost portion of the continental United States. Travel southeast along U.S. Highway 1 to Big Pine Key.