|Biologist Kate Watts gives a Key deer an oral dose of anti-parasitic medication. Photo by USFWS|
The situation for Key deer, once beset by flesh-eating New World screwworm maggots, continues to improve as Ken Warren tells us.
Seeing the word “recovered” on her Key deer data sheet puts a broad smile on Kate Watts’ face.
It was heartbreaking for Kate and her co-workers at National Key Deer Refuge in October 2016 when Key deer infested with flesh-eating New World screwworm maggots were being euthanized almost daily, but now those heartaches have been replaced with relief and a sense of fulfillment as they’re seeing many treated deer doing well--40 of which received direct veterinary care.
As a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, Kate knew it was their best option at the time and the right thing to do, but she was still burdened by the number of Key deer that had to be put down.
Of the 40 animals receiving individualized veterinary treatment at the peak of the incident, nearly half have made full recoveries. Given how far the situation has improved over the past few months Kate is seeing the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
Veterinarians and biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission treat a Key deer infested with screwworm maggots. Photo by Jeff Adams/USFWS
“It’s been amazing that we were able to turn around a situation from needing to euthanize late-stage infested deer, to monitoring deer to ensure that they’re doing well,” Kate says. “It was a whole suite of actions that got us to where we are--the USDA releasing sterile flies, our staff, partners and volunteers administering oral preventative medication, the use of self-medication stations, vets darting and treating deer...”
As Kate notes, the efforts of a cadre of veterinarians and biologists from the Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) played an important part in creating a more manageable situation.
The 10th Key deer that received direct care from a team of veterinarians and biologists displays his tagged antlers and number 10 shaved into his fur for identification purposes. The locals dubbed him Marco. Photo by Valerie Preziosi
"The public really responded favorably to seeing deer recover from early-onset screwworm infestations, and being a part of the solution,” she says.
Valerie Preziosi of Big Pine Key is certainly part of the solution.
|Volunteer Valerie Preziosi took this snapshot of Marco swimming across a lagoon to her family's property on Big Pine Key. Photo by Valerie Preziosi|
One day she noticed a buck acting strangely. “He was very agitated and kept shaking his head and there were flies buzzing all around him,” Valerie says. “He’d just be standing there and then all of a sudden he’d start running around like he was trying to get away from something.”
Valerie reported what she was seeing. She soon had a yard full of officials who confirmed that the deer was infested with screwworm maggots. The response team went on to safely dart, sedate and treat the deer on October 26 as Valerie and her neighbors watched.
Over the ensuing weeks Valerie and her neighbors formed somewhat of a neighborhood watch group to keep track of this buck, who they nicknamed Marco. “His infested area seems to be improving. He’s doing well,” she says.
Among the veterinarians involved in the overall response was the Service’s Dr. Samantha Gibbs. She says of their efforts, “It cured many animals of what would have been a fatal infestation and all darted animals recovered well.”
|This young buck--nicknamed Tres--was treated for screwworm infestation in October and is now fully recovered. Photo by USFWS|
Samantha was part of the crew that treated a 100-pound buck found on the property of a nearby resort. “Tres, Spanish for three, was named by the staff at the resort. Coincidentally, he was also the third animal we treated,” she says.
“He had a moderate head wound infested with screwworms, which we were able to treat successfully with manual removal of the maggots and application of medications to kill any remaining maggots and antibiotics to assist wound healing. By last report from the staff, Tres is doing well.”
FWC veterinarians Dr. Mark Cunningham and Dr. Lara Cusack also treated Key deer during this effort. “Treatment was one more tool in the arsenal. Interagency cooperation was also important with the Service, USDA, FWC and the public working closely together to provide treatment,” Mark says.
Dan Clark, Project Leader for the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex, lauds the government teams and community supporters like Valerie for their “outstanding work.”
“The vets’ and biologists’ work, coupled with great support from folks in the community, resulted in several of these animals surviving,” he says. “That’s success, but we typically want to manage the herd instead of taking care of individuals. But this was an emergency situation. The survival of this endangered species was at stake.”
Since the screwworm situation has stabilized and appears to be moving in the right direction, Service veterinarians determined they can support the incident from their home stations in Florida. However, they’re on call to respond at a moment’s notice if questions arise or if screwworm cases ramp back up.