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Refuge greets deer and manatee

By BARBARA BEHRENDT

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 23, 2000


HOMOSASSA SPRINGS -- The Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park has received two new residents in recent days, representatives of two of the most endangered species in Florida: a manatee and a key deer.

A badly injured manatee named Electra arrived last week. She will likely live out her days at the park because of severe medical problems. Star, the first manatee born at the park, also was moved recently. She was transferred to Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa at the beginning of the month for medical treatment.

Star wasn't eating properly and had become lethargic, prompting park officials and the park veterinarian to send her to Tampa for more intensive treatment. She will likely not return for several months. She is one of the manatees in the Save the Manatee adoption program and has adoptive parents all over the world, officials said.

Electra was rescued Dec. 13 near Titusville on the Atlantic coast, suffering from boat trauma. She also had fishing line wrapped around her right flipper. At the time of the rescue, she weighed 765 pounds, but after tube feeding and medical treatment at Sea World Orlando, she now weighs 905 pounds.

Officials say it is unlikely she will ever be released back into the wild. Electra continues to have problems surfacing, according to park spokeswoman Susan Dougherty.

"The cute thing is that the other manatees try to lift her up," Dougherty said.

Also new at the park, but not yet on display, is a tiny female key deer. The 33-pound deer, which is thought to be a yearling, was brought up from Big Pine Key two weeks ago and immediately X-rayed and examined.

The animal has an old break in her left rear leg. While the bone has begun to fuse back together, the foot is infected. The deer will be quarantined in the wildlife care facility while veterinarian Mark Lowe and the park staff treat and monitor the animal's progress.

If all goes well, the park hopes to release the deer with the park's other key deer, a three-legged male.

Dougherty said the animals were placed far away from their tiny home in the Florida Keys because the numbers of key deer are so limited and so concentrated. One good hurricane could wipe the species off the earth. Similar to white-tailed deer but smaller, the key deer exist only in small numbers around Big Pine Key.

Many of the tiny deer are friendly and come out into neighborhoods and onto roads where they are struck by cars, further depleting their numbers.

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