Experts work to save Key deer from screwworm epidemicwith sterile flies

Fewer than 900 Key deer left in the wild

FLORIDA KEYS, Fla. – Key deer can only be found in the Florida Keys – and there are barely 900 of them left.

The animal is being threatened by an epidemic of screwworms.

Now, a team of local, state and federal agencies feel like it has finally turned a corner in combating screwworms.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and local volunteers have been working for months to protect the Key deer.

"We have staff in place that are trained and prepared to respond to deer that have been affected," Nancy Brown, from the National Wildlife Refuge System, said.

Screwworms are born as larvae on the deer and then eat away the deer's flesh.

The USDA has released millions of sterile screwworm flies that will mate with other screwworm flies. The hope is that this action will prevent the births of new screwworm larvae.

Meanwhile, the Fish and Wildlife Service has been monitoring the deer.

When a deer with screwworms is found, it is given medicine to treat the animal and prevent the screwworms from spreading.

The combined efforts seem to be working.

 The agencies said they've only had to put down one deer in the past few weeks.  

"We feel like the species, the population, is going to be OK. This is a setback but they can recover from this," Brown said.

Experts with wildlife organizations want the public’s help preventing screwworms from infesting Key deer.

They said people should refrain  from feeding the deer, as it draws them in the same place, which can increase their chances of spreading the screwworms.

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