A Key deer scampers away after being fitted with a radio collar. Photo by Christine Ogura/USFWS
Thirty adult female Key deer have new collars, and there’ll be no “poppin’” these radio collars.
Over a three-day period that started January 16, specially trained Key deer researchers from Texas A&M University and veterinarians and biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service captured and placed electronic tracking collars on Key deer at Big Pine and No Name keys. These are small, lightweight flexible vinyl collars, specially made for Key deer.
A team from the Service and Texas A&M University carefully subdue a doe before placing a radio collar on her. Photo by Christine Ogura/USFWS
These collars allow the Service to more easily find, and in turn, closely monitor these Key deer does now, and more importantly, during the upcoming fawning season for possible screwworm infestation. Fawning season, which usually starts in March or April each year, will be a critical timeframe because of how these parasites lay eggs in open wounds, which hatch and become flesh-eating maggots. Does and fawns are particularly vulnerable during the birthing process.
Biological Technician Matt Grassi uses a handheld telemetry receiver and antenna to track Key deer on Big Pine Key. Photo By Noah Strong/USFWS
Using the radio telemetry gear, Service biologists are checking on these collared does several times a week. When fawning season begins, Service biologists will increase observations to a daily schedule.
“We’ve got to be especially vigilant with fawning season coming,” says Dan Clark, refuge manager at Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex. “Should fertile screwworm flies be detected or an infested animal confirmed, Key deer does and fawns will be at higher risk. If it happens, we’ll be prepared to move swiftly with preventative treatments and/or other contingency operations already planned and established to protect the subspecies.”
As an added precaution against the parasite, the deer that have received advanced veterinary care have a number shaved onto their sides for relocation and monitoring. The Service has been visually monitoring these deer as they are observed, and will continue to do so through the next few months as a sort of welfare check.
While significant strides have been made toward eliminating fertile screwworm flies from the environment, complete eradication remains elusive. On January 13, two Key deer from Big and Little Munson islands, respectively, were confirmed to have been infested with screwworm by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory. One of these was dead when it was found, and the other was euthanized on January 7 for its own welfare.
A close-up look at one of the radio collars worn by a Key deer. Photo by USFWS
The radio collars will also provide data to improve the Service’s ability to estimate the population and identify changes in population numbers during the incident.
The presence of New World screwworm was confirmed on National Key Deer Refuge on September 30. Since then, we have worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Monroe County, Florida, and others to eradicate this parasite and protect the endangered Key deer and other wildlife from infestation.