Miami Men Busted for ‘Kidnapping’ Endangered Key Deer From Florida Keys

by Lauren Boisvert

Florida Men do it again, this time stealing an endangered deer. Two men from Miami were jailed on charges of animal cruelty and “taking, possessing or selling a federally designated endangered or threatened species,” according to officials. Yoankis Hernandez Pena and Andres Leon Valdes were arrested at a traffic stop after the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department pulled them over when their vehicle was swerving back and forth on the road in Marathon, Florida on Sunday.

Once stopped, deputies found a Key deer in their backseat, injured. Pena and Valdes claimed they accidentally hit the animal and thought it was dead. Then, when they found it alive, decided to take it to a vet. But, officials claim, neither man called 911 or wildlife services. They said they struck the animal on US 1 near Seven Mile Bridge, but that area is not known as a Key deer habitat.

Deputies arrested the two men and took the deer to Big Pine Key, where US Fish and Wildlife officials and veterinarians are treating its injuries. The animal will be released into the wild once it has been rehabilitated.

What is the Key Deer, and Why is it Endangered?

Key deer are only found in the Florida Keys, and their habitat stretches from Big Pine Key to the Lower Sugarloaf Keys. The National Key Deer Refuge is a 100 mile stretch of 20 to 25 islands that extends from South Florida. Amazingly, the mammals can swim from island to island. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, there are more than 20 endangered plant and animal species in the refuge.

The Key deer, though, is the smallest subspecies of whitetail in North America. These deer stand about 24 to 32 inches at the shoulder, and males weigh up to 75 pounds. Because of encroachment and interaction, Key deer have lost their fear of humans. They may come right up to you, looking for handouts. Just like with any wild animal, officials at the refuge ask that tourists not feed the Key deer. This keeps them safe and wild.

In the Florida Keys, there are fewer than 1,000 Key deer left. They are considered endangered. According to the National Wildlife Federation, threats to the Key deer include land development, car accidents, disease, human interaction, and climate change which affects the mangroves, a majority of their habitat.

Since 1951, the Key deer population has grown. Then, there were only about 25 deer in the Florida Keys. The NWF and US Fish and Wildlife have worked to protect the species all these years. While they’re still endangered, there have definitely been improvements. Still, climate change and land development are two big factors in the low population, due to habitat loss.