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Deer's death in the wild a puzzling loss

An injured Key deer known to schoolchildren and veterinarians as "Pine Needles" was found dead on Big Pine Key over the weekend after surviving only a few weeks on the wild.

The deer was 3 years old when she was struck by a car May 1. She had broken legs and head trauma and no one thought she would live.

But the tiny deer showed a will to live that surprised refuge managers and veterinarians. She was driven to MetroZoo in Dade County, then airlifted to the University of Florida.

She returned to Big Pine earlier this year, and refuge managers tried to teach her to survive in the wild. They introduced wild deer and tried to discourage her trust in humans.

On Feb. 20, they released her as far from houses and cars as they could. She was wearing a radio collar, and biologists kept track of her movements as she explored her native island.

On Saturday, when they checked her radar signal, it was beeping faster, indicating the deer was not moving. They found the body in the northwestern part of the island, about a mile from where the animal was released.

Jon Andrew, manager of Keys federal wildlife refuges, said he was not sure what killed the deer, one of about 300 of the endangered deer found only in the Keys preserve.