KEY LARGO, Fla. -- Two men are facing animal cruelty charges after Florida deputies found three endangered deer tied up in their car during a traffic stop in the Florida Keys, reports CBS affiliate WPEC-TV.
A Monroe County Sheriff's deputy pulled over a car with a broken tail light on Sunday morning. That's when he saw two struggling hog-tied Key deer in the back seat of the car, reports WPEC. The responding officer found a third Key deer tied up in the trunk.
The deputy called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and authorities freed the deer. Two ran off, but a third needed to be evaluated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the station reports.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Key deer are a subspecies of white-tailed deer found only in the Florida Keys.
The smallest subspecies of white-tailed deer, the largest bucks grow to less than a yard high at the shoulders and weigh about 80 pounds, the commission says.The deer can swim between islands and their range includes 26 islands from Big Pine Key to Sugarloaf Key. The entire species nearly went extinct in the 1940s due to hunting and habitat destruction, the commission says.
While the population is now stable at around 700 to 800 deer, they remain listed as a federally endangered species.
Various conservation measures including the establishment of the National Key Deer Refuge, roadway fencing and strict speed limits have helped the sub-species to survive.
The Sun-Sentinel identified the men as 18-year-old Erik Yosmany Damas Acosta of Miami Gardens; and 23-year-old Tumani Anthony Younge, who has ties to Port St. Lucie. According to the arrest reports, the men told investigators they wanted to take pictures with the deer. One of the struggling deer may have kicked out the tail light, which led to the traffic stop, reports WPEC.
The men could face up to five years in jail and fines of up to $5,000, reports CBS Miami.