A Big Pine Key resident has been charged with shooting and killing one of the island’s iconic Key deer — a diminutive endangered species that is a favorite of tourists — because it was nibbling plants in his yard.
Grant Wilson, 33, was arrested on a felony count of killing a protected species, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said on Monday.
“Mr. Wilson advised the Key deer was in his yard, getting into garden and eating his plants, and that’s why he shot it,” said Officer Bobby Dube, an FWC information officer.
Witnesses told FWC investigator Jeremy Foell that Wilson killed the deer Friday and dragged its carcass to mangroves near his Bogie Drive home, off the channel between Big Pine and No Name Key, and left it there. FWC officers recovered the remains. A necropsy of the deer, believed to be an adult female, will be conducted to confirm cause of death.
But officers seized two high-powered Crossman pellet guns, a rifle and a handgun, each capable of firing .177-caliber pellets.
The shooting did not take place on National Key Deer Refuge property, but investigators with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been notified.
“It’s still under investigation,” Nancy Finley, Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges manager, said Monday. “We’re seeking full disclosure on what happened to determine the appropriate course of action.”
Wilson, who was arrested Saturday, was released from the Stock Island detention center Sunday after posting a $15,000 bond.
Key deer have been protected by federal law as an endangered species for nearly 50 years. The herd, usually estimated at about 800 individuals, exists only in the Lower Keys. The deer grow to about as big as a large dog.
Wilson’s arrest was the first in recent memory for the intentional slaying of a Key deer.
“We haven’t had anything like a shooting in quite a while,” Finley said. “We’ve had cases where dogs chased and killed a deer. In another incident, a person picked up a deer that had been killed by a car and took it home for meat. Key deer are still an endangered species. You cannot do these things in the Keys.”