KEY LARGO, Fla. – The endangered Key deer is being threatened by an infestation of the New World screwworms, a parasite that feeds on animal tissue.
Dozens of infected deer have been put down in Big Pine Key.
The Florida Department of Agriculture has started aggressively battling the infestation before it spreads to other animals. Part of the solution is to ensure the screwworm doesn't travel north.
An animal health check zones has been placed at mile marker 106 in Key Largo to ensure that any pet traveling out of Monroe County doesn't have screwworms.
"It is a gruesome, painful, awful parasite," Florida Department of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said.
Putnam said screwworms have historically been the greatest threat that the livestock industry could face.
Big Pine Key resident Kim Gabel said she's seen the devasting effects the parasite has on the deer.
"You'll see gaping holes or wounds in their neck or in their head, and you'll see them shaking their head because they're trying to get the flies and the maggots away from them," Gabel said.
Officials are working on eradicating the parasite.
"We cannot allow this screwworm fly to leave Monroe County," Commissioner Sylvia Murphy said. "We have to eradicate here, keep it here, kill it here so it does not get out into the mainland of Florida."