Thursday, October 06, 2016

Endangered Key Deer Face Threat Straight out of a Horror Movie

Let’s face it: Key deer, a slightly smaller, stockier subspecies of the common white-tailed deer, have plenty of problems. Only about 800 of them survive, confined to a few small islands in the Florida Keys. You could whip through their entire habitat in about 10 minutes on Route 1, and plenty of motorists do, incidentally killing about 150 of the deer every year. They’re on the endangered species list. Sound bad? Early this week, it got much worse. Staff at the National Key Deer Refuge found deer infested with maggots of the New World screwworm fly, an invasive species that hasn’t been seen in this country in half a century. The flies have a nasty habit of laying their eggs on open wounds, and when they hatch, the maggots feed by digging corkscrew holes into the flesh of the host animal. “They’re in as gory of a condition as you can imagine,” Dan Clark, the refuge manager, told a reporter. He wasn’t exaggerating: One photo showed a deer waiting stoically as the writhing maggots seemed to be peeling the skin off the back of its head. U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff charged with protecting the deer began euthanizing the victims instead, by firing a spring-loaded bolt into their skulls. Then they collected the maggots to prevent them from spreading. So far about 40 of the infested deer have died. Other government officials weren’t fretting so much about the endangered deer. They worried instead about cattle, another invasive species. Mention of screwworm flies “sends shivers down every rancher’s spine,” said Adam H. Putnam, Florida’s commissioner of agriculture. He declared a state of emergency, noting that Florida’s livestock industry “generates $2.78 billion in annual economic impact and supports more than 41,000 jobs.” The state has established an “animal health check point” to spot screwworm-infested pets in vehicles leaving the quarantined zone...more

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