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Key Deer Collared For Fawning Season

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Christine Ogura
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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
A Key deer doe scampers away after being fitted with a radio collar.

Thirty female Key deer are now wearing radio collars so biologists can track them during fawning season.

The deer will be watched closely because does and newborn fawns are especially vulnerable to screwworm. The parasite has killed 135 of the endangered animals so far. The herd was estimated at 800 to 1,000 animals before the outbreak.

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Credit U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Thirty female Key deer are now wearing radio collars like this one.

Screwworm flies lay their eggs in open wounds on warm-blooded animals. When the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the living flesh of the host.

The 30 adult females are wearing lightweight vinyl collars made especially for them. The collars transmit radio signals so veterinarians and refuge staff can find the deer and monitor their condition.

"We've got to be especially vigilant with fawning season coming," National Key Deer Refuge Manager Dan Clark said in a statement issued by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. If a doe or fawn is infested, "we'll be prepared to move swiftly with preventative treatments and/or other contingency operations already planned and established to protect the subspecies."

Biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are checking on the collared does several times a week and will start checking them daily once the does begin giving birth, according to the statement.

Since the outbreak was confirmed last fall, refuge staff and volunteers have been treating the Key deer with anti-parasitic medication.

The refuge has also built two large corrals where they can contain and monitor deer in case the outbreak is deemed a threat to the survival of the endangered species. So far, those corrals have not been needed.

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Credit Noah Strong / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Biological technician Matt Grassi uses a hand-held telemetry receiver and antenna to track Key deer on Big Pine Key.

Federal and state agriculture officials are working to eradicate the screwworm through the release of sterile screwworm flies. That's the proven method to get rid of the pests. A stray dog infested with screwworm was recently found on the mainland in Homestead. Sterile fly releases have been started there, as well.