Key Deer Hotline - What Should I Expect?

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The Key Deer Hotline is a reporting system developed for the response to reports of sick, injured or dead key deer. The hotline is integrated into the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's (FWC) Dispatch Call Center.  Trained wildlife professionals respond to calls during normal business hours, with limited coverage after hours.  This service is being provided through a partnership between National Key Deer Refuge, FWC and Monroe County Sheriff's Office.


Key Deer Hotline – What Should I Expect?

I saw an injured deer, what do I do?  If you see a sick or seriously injured deer, call FWC Key Deer Hotline at 305-470-6863, extension 7.  Please be ready to provide as much information as possible about the age, sex, location, day/time of sighting, and a description of the injury or illness.  This information will be directly passed on to the wildlife responder.

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Who will respond to the call?  The Key Deer Hotline is currently supported through a partnership between Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the National Key Deer Refuge and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office to provide health assessments, in addition to limited triage response for the well-being of the animal (e.g. removing an object that hinders mobility or affects the health of the deer).  At the Refuge, we view the Key deer as a wild animal and base our response actions on the status of the herd, while also balancing that priority with the health and welfare of the individual.  If necessary, euthanasia will be completed by a trained wildlife professional. 

How long does it take before my call is responded to?  The FWC Key Deer Hotline is available to report sick, injured or dead deer 24 hours per day.  However, due to limited funding and staffing capacity, wildlife responders may only be available to respond to a call during normal working hours. After-hours response is dispatched based on the availability of wildlife officers on duty, and subject to delay due to other responsibilities.  Roadkill deer may picked up during normal business hours.

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What happens when a responder shows up?  The responder will call the reporting party if additional information is required on the specific location, type of injury or illness, age, sex, and any other specifics.  The responder will then attempt to locate the deer to visually assess the deer’s health.  The type of response may vary, based on the visual assessment and further communication with other wildlife professionals as needed. Over the last several decades of attempts to capture and rehabilitate key deer, Service and veterinary professionals have not often been successful in preventing capture myopathy, or organ failure due to lactic acid buildup in the muscles that leads to death.   Because of this, we do not normally capture deer for treatment purposes.

What kind of treatments do you offer for injured key deer? Responders provide visual health assessments of injuries and illness to determine the best course of action.  If a deer is likely to heal naturally from an injury, responders will work with the reporting party to monitor the recovery of the deer over a period of hours, days or weeks. Recovery varies; for example some deer survive with a broken or injured leg that heals over time, others have difficulty surviving with just the use of three legs.   If a deer is unlikely to recover from injury, the wildlife professional will humanely euthanize the deer to prevent suffering.  Key deer are susceptible to capture myopathy, or organ failure due to lactic acid buildup in the muscles that leads to death.  Because of this, we do not normally capture deer for treatment purposes.

How can I find out what happened to the sick or seriously injured deer that I reported?  Wildlife responders may choose to follow up with the reporting party to let them know the status of the deer, and what actions were taken, if they deem it appropriate.  If you did not receive a call and would like additional information about the outcome of the response, please call the FWC Key Deer Hotline.

Why don’t you offer rehabilitation services for Key deer? As all the National Wildlife Refuges were established for specific purposes, we at National Key Deer Refuge do our best to focus on key management actions that benefit the most habitats and species possible considering our funding and personnel capacity to do so.  In the case of Key deer, we look at habitats supporting the deer as a primary focus since those habitats support other plant and animal species under our stewardship.  There is a balance in nature and without healthy natural habitats it would be difficult to maintain a healthy population of Key deer.  We view Key deer as a wild population of animals and base our actions on the status of the herd.  We recognize some individual deer will become sick, injured and/or die, as is part of the dynamics any wild deer population. An unfortunate circumstance of living so closely with the Key deer is that we are often witness to this natural circle of life.  We are concerned about Key deer death or injury as a result of man's direct impacts (i.e. vehicle collisions due to irresponsible driver behavior, entanglements in trash, illegal feeding) and we ask that the local community and visitors help the deer by obeying the speed limits, securing trash and not feeding them. With everyone’s help many of these unfortunate injuries and deaths can be avoided. 

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Over the years, Key deer herd has shown remarkable resiliency and as a whole are doing well overall - even in spite of some pretty significant events over the past couple of years (New world screwworm outbreak (2016) and Hurricane Irma (2017)).  The population overall has been increasing by about 3% each year so they continue to do what deer do best.  

For more information on the establishment purposes of National Key Deer Refuge and the other three Refuges within the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex, please refer to Comprehensive Conservation Plans (CCPs) that can be found on the Refuge websites.

What kind of data do you collect from the deer? The Refuge collects information on all reported roadkills, including the location, date, age, sex, and cause of death.  This information is reported annually in the Big Pine Key/No Name Key Habitat Conservation Plan Annual Report, which can be found on the Key Deer Information Page on the National Key Deer Refuge website.

Do you pick up dead deer? How do you dispose of them?  Wildlife responders currently pick up all dead deer that are reported to the Key Deer Hotline.  The deer is transported to a discrete location to be disposed of, or stored in a freezer until it can be incinerated.