White-tailed Deer

Photo Credit - Henkjan Kievit: SHAPE/DCNA. Curaçao White-tailed Deer.

The Curaçao White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus curassavicus) often comes as a surprise to visitors who do not expect such an animal to live in Curaçao’s arid landscape. Curaçao is the only Caribbean island where this deer sub-species has been present since pre-Columbian times. It is related to the American White-tailed Deer.

Archaeologists believe that Arawak Indians introduced the deer to Curaçao from South America. The local sub-species has adapted its behavior to the island’s harsh climate in a number of interesting ways. For example, it has been reported that White-tailed Deer barely mate during very dry years to conserve their energy. Also, males on Curaçao do not grow very large antlers like their counterpart on the mainland – they reserve their energy for survival, and do not need to compete for females as the population is so small.

Nowadays, the White-tailed Deer is a rare sight on the island; its population is estimated at less than 250. Most live within Christoffel Park, but do not harm the park’s vegetation like goats because they only consume a few select plant species. The White-tailed Deer has been protected on Curaçao since 1926 and has become one of the island’s most prized species. Conservation efforts are currently intensifying as the population is already very small and available habitat is increasingly threatened by development. CARMABI, in collaboration with scientists from Michigan Technological University, USA, has launched an island-wide monitoring project to gather data on the deer’s ecology in order to guide future conservation and management efforts.