Searching for a way to help preserve the endangered Key deer, artist Dan Henderson of Key Largo picked up his paint brush.
Henderson, a U.S. Army disabled veteran, created an acrylic painting that features the diminutive deer standing alongside a Big Pine Key warning sign that keeps a grim toll of the endangered deer killed by traffic.
“I’ve always liked animals so I went down to visit the deer,” Henderson recounted. “One deer looked me dead in the eye. It was like he was saying, ‘You’ve gotta help us. We need help.’ And I’ll do anything to help save lives.”
Left with a leg injury and post-traumatic stress disorder after a deadly missile fuel-cell fire while serving at a military base in Germany, Henderson said he finds painting more therapeutic than medication. “I’m just trying to give something back,” he said. “It makes me feel good.”
Henderson, 57, seeks to turn his Key deer work into a run of poster prints that can raise awareness of the need to obey the speed limit and watch for deer that often linger near Lower Keys roadways. The traffic problem was exacerbated when Hurricane Irma destroyed parts of the protective fencing surrounding the deer's refuge and habitat, he said.
The original art may donated to a nonprofit animal organization for fundraising, he said. Henderson’s next work is planned to feature the Florida panther.
Endangered Key deer, standing only around 3 feet tall, are found only in the Lower Keys. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates the herd count is between 800 and 1,200.
Kevin Wadlow and Jill Hainer-Jones