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Screwworm Response For Key Deer Winding Down

A U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologist treats Key deer to prevent screwworm last October. Wildlife managers plan to stop treating the deer on April 10.
Nancy Klingener
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

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.

Read more: Victory In The War Over Screwworm: Keys Animal Quarantaine Lifted

Since then, state and federal agricultural agencies have released more than 147 million sterile screwworm flies, mostly in the Keys. That's the proven method for eradicating screwworm. The outbreak in the Keys was the first in the U.S. in more than 30 years.

Staff from the National Key Deer Refuge plan to keep watching the Key deer for signs of screwworm and will keep tracking the deer that were fitted with radio collars in January. The refuge also has cameras in remote backcountry locations to monitor the deer.

Officials from the federal and state agriculture agencies, along with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Monroe County, plan a public meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 25, at Big Pine Key Community Park, 31009 Atlantis Dr., to explain future monitoring of the deer and answer questions about the response and future plans.

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Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.