Key deer

The endangered Key deer herd was already coming out of a tough year — the herd lost more than 100 animals to New World screwworm.

So when the eye of Hurricane Irma crossed the Lower Keys as a Category 4 storm, wildlife managers were worried. The Lower Keys is also the only place on the planet where Key deer live.

But recently completed population surveys came up with good news, said Dan Clark, manager of the four national wildlife refuges in the Keys, including Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge.

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.

Judy Gallagher / Flickr

U.S. agriculture officials are releasing the last sterilized flies to fight a flesh-eating parasite in a Florida Keys wildlife refuge.

National Key Deer Refuge

Endangered deer in the Florida Keys are no longer receiving anti-parasite medication to protect against flesh-eating screwworms.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the Key deer no longer need oral medications because it's been over three months since the last confirmed screwworm infection in the National Key Deer Refuge.

Judy Gallagher / Flickr

Wildlife officials say endangered Key deer no longer need anti-parasite medication to fight off flesh-eating screwworms.

Self-medicating stations meant to protect the endangered Key deer from screwworm have already been removed and federal wildlife managers plan to stop medicating entirely on April 10 — assuming no new cases of the deadly parasite are found.

Screwworm was first confirmed in the Keys Sept. 30 and killed 135 Key deer, an endangered species that lives nowhere else in the world. Before the outbreak, the population was estimated at 800 to 1,000 animals.

Wildlife Officials: Screwworm Infestation Declining In Keys

Mar 7, 2017
Judy Gallagher / Flickr

Wildlife officials say a screwworm infestation in the Florida Keys seems to be declining, which is good news for a unique deer herd threatened by the flesh-eating parasites.

National Key Deer Refuge

Wildlife officials have fitted 30 female Key deer with radio tracking collars amid a screwworm infestation threatening the endangered herd.

For the first time in 30 years, the invasive New World Screwworm has been reported in the Florida Keys. The bug and its flesh-eating larvae have been reported on the mainland.

Since September, 15 cases of the screwworm have been documented in endangered Key Deer, pigs, raccoons, cats, and dogs. In early January, the first case of the fly—and the flesh-eating larvae it produces when its eggs are hatched inside an animal—was reported in Homestead. That brings the screwworm onto the Florida mainland and just miles from Miami.

National Key Deer Refuge

Wildlife officials say a two-month-long screwworm outbreak among Key deer has helped biologists develop better counts of the elusive herd.

Nancy Klingener

People in the Keys have been living alongside Key deer for a long time. And for ages, wildlife officials have implored people: Don't feed the deer.

Federal authorities hope sterile screwworm fly releases and treating the Key deer will save the endangered species, which lives only on a few islands of the Lower Keys.