(Mirror Daily, United States) – After the Key deer population has been hit by a 60-day-long screwworm outbreak, the biologists managed to count the remaining specimens. According to the officials from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, there are between 800 and 1,000 Key deer left on the planet.
Volunteers, a group of experts from the Texas A&M University, and field biologists joined their efforts to identify the location where there was the highest deer concentration. Based on their estimates, the No Name and Big Pine Key deer consist of the largest part of the herd. More precisely, there are 875 specimens on eleven out of the twenty-two islands where this species is thought to live.
This means that the population might be twice as high as the one estimated by the biologists’ count. The wildlife officials hope to develop more efficient strategies to facilitate the recovery of the Key deer and prevent outbreaks.
During the mating season, 132 Big Pine keys died due to the screwworm infection. Most of them were males which had been injured while fighting over females. When the screwworm enters an open wound, it becomes impossible to eradicate, and the deer must be killed to prevent the infection from spreading.
Fortunately, entomologists released millions of sterile screwworm males which would mate with females thus reducing the population. This is probably the most effective strategy developed by wildlife biologists until now.
In addition, the National Key Deer Refuge have constructed many enclosures to trap healthy animals in case the Key deer numbers plummet. According to Drew Becker, an FWS biologist, the current population estimate may vary depending on many environmental factors.
The wildlife biologists underline that cars kill more key deer than the screwworm outbreak. The construction of roads interfered with the deer habitat, thus increasing the risk of collisions. The problem is that deer are also attracted by a plant growing on the sides of the roads during winter.
The experts have found an unusual way to preserve the key deer by collecting the reproductive organs of dead specimens killed by cars. In other words, they intend to use the genetic material to support the recovery of the herd.
Image Source: Static Flickr
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