Florida Keys

Can feeding and petting these small deer end up killing them? It’s happening in the Keys

A Key deer recently entered a Walgreens on Big Pine Key. The deer have become tamed and accustomed to approaching people.
A Key deer recently entered a Walgreens on Big Pine Key. The deer have become tamed and accustomed to approaching people.

It’s a photo that drew laughter and smiles across the Florida Keys.

Someone posted an image of a Key deer standing inside a Walgreens drugstore, having entered on his own through the automatic door.

The buck’s snapshot was shared widely on social media.

But one Keys group wasn’t sharing it, and definitely wasn’t smiling.

It reminded its members that a fearless Key deer is a deer in danger. If he had accidentally hurt someone he may have had to be euthanized, they said.

Also, a fearless deer, one who is comfortable approaching people, is less likely to fear traffic, especially the cars that pass through Big Pine on U.S. 1.

“This is a fearless buck which is absolutely not good for him,” posted Valerie Preziosi, of Big Pine Key, after the photo had gone around. “This sort of post when shared potentially places him at risk of being abducted. It’s happened plenty of times. A few chuckles isn’t worth risking his safety.”

Preziosi knows the buck in the Walgreens photo.

“It’s not funny at all,” she said. “That particular buck has been witnessed multiple times having to walk that very dangerous highway in order to get whatever he gets from those people. It’s only a matter of time that he gets injured or killed.”

If people at Walgreens stop feeding the buck, he will eventually stop coming in, she added.

Key deer are precious to the residents of Big Pine Key, home to the National Key Deer refuge and a small herd of the endangered species.

Big Pine and the surrounding islands provide the last habitat for the planet’s last herd of the dog-sized deer, which now number about between 700 and 1,000.

Preziosi is president of the Save Our Key Deer nonprofit. Recently, the group’s members made posters telling drivers to slow down.

On June 11, Preziosi posted on the nonprofit’s page that a pregnant doe had been killed on Key Deer Boulevard.

“This makes 15 deer killed by motorists over the past 4.5 weeks,” she wrote. “That’s an unusually high occurrence rate.”

And wildlife experts will tell you, feeding and petting the tiny deer only makes them less wild, and more unsuspecting of speeding drivers..

A Key deer approaching a person on Big Pine Key. Kristen Norman

Feeding the deer, which have been listed as endangered since 1967, is also illegal.

Any wild animal shouldn’t be fed by people, said Ken Warren, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in South Florida.

“It desensitizes those animals toward their natural instinct, which is to avoid people,” Warren said.

Once Key deer become desensitized to people, they start becoming dependent on people, Warren said.

“That can lead to unfortunate circumstances,” he said.

A buck who visits a Walgreens isn’t afraid of people.

“That’s not a good situation for the deer,” Warren said.

The small deer, which are so gentle and accustomed to human contact they will approach front doors and walk right up to people who often treat them to apples or leftovers and pat their heads.

Deer have been targeted before by criminals.

In 2017, two men poached the federally protected Key deer, hog-tying three of them and stuffing them in their car. One had to be put down due to a broken leg.

One man received a year in federal prison while the other got 180 days of home confinement. Each also received six months in the county jail on top of the federal terms.

And the deer’s fearless nature played a part in the abduction.

They lured the deer with pieces of bread.