Florida Keys Endangered Species: 8 Easy Ways You Can Help

No, it’s not the Easter Bunny— it’s a Lower Keys marsh rabbit,  Sylvilagus palustris hefneri—one of many endangered species protected by the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuge Complex. These tiny rabbits range from Big Pine Key to Boca Chica and the out islands of the refuge backcountry.  Note the last part of its Latin subspecies name— recognition for Playboy Bunny creator Hugh Heffner, who generously funded the species research.    Photo: FWS
No, it’s not the Easter Bunny— it’s a Lower Keys marsh rabbit, Sylvilagus palustris hefneri—one of many endangered species protected by the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuge Complex. These tiny rabbits range from Big Pine Key to Boca Chica and the out islands of the refuge backcountry. Note the last part of its Latin subspecies name— recognition for Playboy Bunny creator Hugh Heffner, who generously funded the species research. Photo: FWS

Threatened. Endangered. Extinct. Scientists estimate that up to one-third of U.S. species are at increased risk of extinction. Yet when we look out over the 400,00 acres of wildlife that make up the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuge complex, we see a natural beauty that is nothing short of stunning.

The truth is, these areas are designated as refuges and federal wilderness areas for a reason— Crocodile Lake NWR, National Key Deer Refuge, Great White Heron NWR and Key West NWR are home to some of the most endangered habitats, plants, and wildlife species in the world. And while refuge managers, biologists, law enforcement officers, maintenance staff, volunteers, and the refuge friends group FAVOR (Friends And Volunteers Of Refuges) do everything they can to help protect and conserve them— we can help make a difference, too.

1. Get out into the refuges: The first step to protecting endangered species is to learn how interesting and important they are. US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex and FAVOR will host their first Outdoor Fest—four action-packed days filled with family-friendly, mostly free outdoor adventures and hands-on activities—set for Thursday, March 17th through Sunday, March 20th. Register for their expert-guided birding and nature walks, art and photography workshops, kids’ programs, kayak excursions, historical and natural history bike rides, and the 2nd Annual Run With Deer 5K on Big Pine Key at www.favorfloridakeys.org/outdoor-fest.

2. Keep your distance. Everyone needs personal space, including wildlife. When creatures are on constant alert or are urged to move to a new locale, it stresses their system and often puts their young at risk. When you’re out in the refuges, give animals the respect they deserve and admire them from afar.

3. Don’t share. Animals are equipped to hunt or forage for their own natural resources; altering these patterns are detrimental to their survival. Pack your picnic to enjoy in the wild, but remember that birds don’t need your bread and Key deer most definitely do not need your Doritos. (Not only that, but it’s illegal to feed the wildlife).

4. Triple your trash. It’s great to carry out what you bring in, but take it one step further and pick up what someone else may have inadvertently or carelessly left behind. Stray fishing line, wind-blown plastic bags, deteriorating plastic bottles— these things can be deadly to nearly every type of wildlife.

5. Slow down. (This ain’t the mainland)! Whether you’re on roads, boats, or even bikes, do the wildlife a favor and keep the speed to a minimum. Couple this with a keen eye and not only will you have more opportunities to discover their natural beauty, you’ll save yourself the heartache of accidentally colliding with creatures like the endangered Key deer and green sea turtles.

6. Don’t let Rover roam. As much as we love our domestic pets, they hardly make for a good mix when it comes to the refuge and the wild animals found there—unless you plan on making the effort to leash or contain them. If you live near the refuge and have a cat, consider building a “catio” (the Outdoor Fest offers a learning workshop for these cat patios) or making your pal an indoor-only pet, potentially saving the lives of not only many birds, but of the endangered Lower Keys Marsh rabbit or the endangered Key Largo woodrat.

7. Mute your tunes. Remember that “refuge” means protection or shelter, and that the creatures there require the solace and symphony of things like the wind across trees and not the latest top ten hits blasting out of your boat’s speakers. Speaking in low tones is also beneficial to you since you’ll be more likely to come across viewing opportunities.

8. Go native. Even the smallest space can contain native plants that provide shelter and nourishment for insects, such as bees and butterflies, including the endangered Schaus’ swallowtail butterfly. Be sure to choose chemical-free alternatives to pest control and non-toxic ways to encourage your gardens to grow. Check out the Fest for a workshop on how to make a butterfly and wildlife habitat right in your back yard.

Let’s help lessen the threats to our neighboring wildlife community. With a little awareness and respect for the natural world, we CAN make a difference.

To learn more about the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuge complex and register for Outdoor Fest events, visit www.favorfloridakeys.org/outdoor-fest or contact Kristie Killam at 305.304.9625, email: flkeysoutdoorfest@gmail.com. Brought to you in part by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.

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