As if Florida’s imperiled Key deer don’t face enough hurdles as they dodge rising sea levels, a burgeoning panther population, and a raft of feral pythons, we can now add another threat: deer-nappers. According to Keys News and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, two men were arrested for transporting a live, wounded Key deer in their car Sunday.

Yoankis Hernandez Pena, 38, and Andres Leon Valdes, 45, were pulled over around 2 a.m. on Sunday when sheriff’s deputies noticed that their blue, Chevrolet hatchback was moving erratically and failing to stay in its lane on Highway 1 near the town of Marathon. When officers approached the vehicle, they realized the reason for the erratic driving—an injured Key deer resting on top of a cooler, lawn chair, and other items inside the car. Key deer are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Pena and Valdez told officers that they’d struck the deer with the vehicle and initially thought they’d killed the animal. But after they realized the deer was still alive, they claimed, they were driving it to a veterinarian to see if it could be saved.

Officers did not buy the story, especially when the Miami men admitted they’d not attempted to call 911, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC),  or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife service. When FWC officers arrived to investigate further, they arrested the men, charging them with cruelty to animals and taking, possessing, or selling a federally designated endangered or threatened species. In a Facebook post, Sheriff Rick Ramsay said, “Thanks to the great work by our Deputies and the quick actions of FWC, the Key deer is alive, and hopefully it will recover and be released.” 

The men were taken to jail and held without bond, while the deer was transported to U.S. Fish & Wildlife officials and was being treated by a veterinarian.

The Key deer is the smallest subspecies of whitetail deer, large bucks weighing up to 80 pounds, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Key deer used to live all across the lower Florida Keys, but now between 700 and 800 of them roam only in the areas from Sugarloaf Key to Bahia Honda Key. The National Key Deer Refuge in Florida, where many of the deer can be found, was established in 1953.

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