Federal wildlife managers in the Florida Keys have a message for residents: Please stop feeding the endangered deer.
Since Irma washed over Cudjoe Key Sept. 10, pushing a storm surge that submerged much of the Lower Keys including the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine, residents who have long tended to the deer like beloved pets began putting out water and food, fearful that saltwater contaminated foraging grounds.
Since the storm, 26 deer deaths have been confirmed. Of those, biologists blamed 21 directly on the storm but have not determined the cause for the other five.
Officials now worry that putting out dog food or grains not naturally in the deer’s diet could bring more harm and in recent weeks have repeated warnings about feeding them. Eating dog food, grain or other carbohydrates can increase acidity in the deer’s stomach, kill bacteria needed for digestion and result in diarrhea, enteritis or death, officials said.
“We appreciate the community’s vested interest in protecting the deer,” said refuge manager Dan Clark said in a statement. “That’s why we need as many people as possible to understand the serious health risks associated with supplemental feeding.”