Key deer

Monroe County Fire-Rescue

A brushfire has burned about 100 acres and destroyed one home on Big Pine Key — an island that saw some of the worst devastation from Hurricane Irma.

Emily Michot / Miami Herald

The last couple of years have not been kind to the endangered Key deer.

Key Deer Poacher To Serve Federal Time

Oct 31, 2017
FWC

One of two men caught illegally poaching three endangered Key deer was sentenced Tuesday to 12 months in federal custody. The other received supervised release for a year.

U.S. District Court Judge Jose E. Martinez handed down the sentences to Eric Damas Acosta, 18, who received the prison term plus two years of supervised release after he gets out; and Tumani Anthony Young, 23, who received 12 months of supervised release with electronic monitoring. They were in federal court on Simonton Street in Key West.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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.

Miami Herald

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.

FWC

Update July 6: The captured buck was euthanized Thursday morning, after an evaluation by a veterinarian, according to Keys refuge manager Dan Clark. The deer apparently had fractured a right rear leg in the ankle area.

"To ease his pain and suffering, we had to go ahead and put the deer down this morning," Clark said.

Two men are facing multiple felony charges after they were pulled over in the Lower Keys Sunday — and found to have three endangered Key deer "hog-tied" in their car, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

It appears the endangered Key deer are winning the battle against the deadly screwworm fly.

But U.S. Fish & Wildlife officials are taking no chances as the deer head into fawning season, when the does and fawns will be especially vulnerable. Screwworm flies lay their eggs in the open wounds of warm-blooded animals. When the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the living flesh of the host.

Diane Borden-Billiot / U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

A Key deer was euthanized this week after it was found to be infested with screwworm. That's the bad news.

The good news is that it had been almost a month since the previous death, Nov. 14. That means the loss of the endangered species has slowed way down since the outbreak was confirmed in late September.

A total of 133 Key deer have died from the screwworms. Screwworm flies lay their eggs in the open wounds of warm blooded animals. When the eggs hatch, the larvae consume the living flesh of the host.

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


Nancy Klingener / WLRN

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.

But now the deer are in trouble, and breaking the old rules is part of the solution.

Nancy Klingener / WLRN

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.

Nancy Klingener / WLRN

Since a screwworm infestation was identified in the Lower Keys, more than 10 million sterile screwworm flies have been released on eight islands.

Sterile flies are the proven technology to eradicate screwworms. The flies are zapped with gamma radiation, making them sterile. Then those sterile flies are released to breed with wild flies. That stops reproduction, preventing more fly larvae.

Those larvae are the problem. Screwworm flies lay their eggs in open wounds. When the larvae hatch — those larvae are the actual "screwworms" — they feed on the living flesh of the host.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

A pest that had been eradicated from the U.S. has re-appeared in the Lower Florida Keys.

It's the first local infestation of New World screwworm in the U.S. in more than 30 years.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

  Key deer were almost hunted to extinction. By 1950, as few as 25-50 of the animals were left.

But the creation of the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key and protection under the Endangered Species Act have led to a comeback. The most recent population study estimates the herd at 900 to 1,000.

"They are truly one of the success stories of conservation," said Adam Emerick, a refuge biologist who gave an update on the Key deer to the Monroe County Commission this week.

Mark Hedden / WLRN

A 33-year-old Big Pine Key man faces a third-degree felony charge after state wildlife officers say he shot and killed an endangered Key deer because it was eating his plants.

Big Pine Key, an island about 40 miles northeast of Key West, is part of the National Key Deer Refuge. The refuge was created in 1957 to protect the diminutive deer, which had been hunted to the extent there were an estimated 55 left.