Update July 6: The captured buck was euthanized Thursday morning, after an evaluation by a veterinarian, according to Keys refuge manager Dan Clark. The deer apparently had fractured a right rear leg in the ankle area.
"To ease his pain and suffering, we had to go ahead and put the deer down this morning," Clark said.
Two men are facing multiple felony charges after they were pulled over in the Lower Keys Sunday — and found to have three endangered Key deer "hog-tied" in their car, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
A Monroe County Sheriff's deputy saw the deer in the backseat and immediately called state and federal wildlife officers.
The officers saw "two Key deer 'hog-tied' with twine in the back seat," Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Officer Clayton Wagner wrote in the arrest affidavit.
"They had wounds all over their body and head and were struggling to break free. Blood was soaked into the seats and deer hair was heavily scattered throughout," Wagner wrote. "We opened the trunk to find a third Key deer. This deer also had many wounds on its body and head and there was blood smeared on the roof of the trunk along with deer hair scattered throughout."
The car's driver, Erik Damas Acosta, 18, of Miami Gardens, told Wagner that "he was going to take pictures with them," and that he was "going to one of the bridges to camp," according to the arrest affidavit.
Damas Acosta said he "fed them to bring them close, grabbed them, tied them up and then put them in the vehicle," according to the affidavit.
To minimize stress on the animals, they were released on the scene. Little Torch Key is also part of the wildlife refuge. The two does "scampered right off into the bushes," while the buck was moving more slowly and is being monitored.
"It's still in the wild and it's moving around on its own," said Dan Clark, manager of National Key Deer Refuge. "They got banged up quite a bit from being tied up and being in the backseat of the car and in the trunk."
Wildlife managers know from entanglement and other cases that moving Key deer and keeping them in captivity "almost always results in mortality," Clark said. "The ability to get the deer back into the wild and get them into the woods where they feel safe and comfortable is by far the best move the officers could have done."
Damas Acosta and a passenger in the car, Tamani Younge, 23, of Tamarac were arrested on multiple charges including three felonies each. They are being held at the Monroe County jail in Key West.
Key deer are a diminutive subspecies of the Virginia whitetail deer. They live only in the Lower Florida Keys. The deer population has been threatened by habitat loss and being hit by cars. It had been making a comeback, estimated at 800 to 1,000 animals, until a screwworm infestation discovered last fall killed more than 100 animals.
Screwworm flies are now considered eradicated after the release of tens of millions of sterile flies from in the fall and winter.
Getting hit by cars continues to be the leading cause of death for the deer and Clark said this case just provides more reason for the refuge's message against feeding deer.
"That just makes them more vulnerable to getting attacked by dogs or hit by cars — or poached, apparently," he said.