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A Key Deer Walks Into A CVS... And Why We Shouldn't Laugh About The Punchline

Doug Mader, DVM
A Key deer buck repeatedly wandered into a CVS on Big Pine until it was finally tranquilized and relocated.

The endangered Key deer are one of the iconic animals of South Florida. The small deer are popular with tourists for photos. But, it can be dangerous for the deer when they get too comfortable with humans.

Case in point: Last year, a Key deer buck started showing up at the CVS on Big Pine Key.

"It actually had learned to walk up and stand on the pressure plates," said Doug Mader, a veterinarian who owns the Marathon Veterinary Hospital and lives on Big Pine Key. "The doors would open, it would walk in, it walked around the store, it did some shopping, found the candy aisle. It knew exactly where it wanted to go."

Mader got the call from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which runs the National Key Deer Refuge. They'd tried chasing the deer out of the store but it came back.

"We were able to corner it in the drug section and I gave it some tranquilizers and we carried it very, very, very far away, blindfolded it so we didn't know where it was and then we woke it up, stayed with it and make sure it was OK and the plan was hopefully it wouldn't come back," Mader said.

So far, it appears the deer has been successfully discouraged. Refuge managers say that even though the deer are adorable people should keep their distance and never feed them. These things lead to the animals hanging out more in populated areas — where they get hit by cars.

"We try and convince people to help keep wildlife wild and that is especially important for the Key deer. They're wild animals. They know how to feed themselves. They know where to find water," said Kristie Killam, park ranger for the National Wildlife Refuges in the Keys.

"When we intervene and change their behaviors, a lot of times bad things happen to them," she said. "So it might seem funny for a key deer to be inside CVS but it's actually really dangerous for them and it's dangerous for the people involved, too."


Nancy Klingener was WLRN's Florida Keys reporter until July 2022.
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