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Elderly woman charged over 'mercy killing' of endangered Key deer

Emily Michot
Save Our Key Deer
A Key deer.

A 77-year-old Keys woman shot and killed one of the endangered Key deer that only live in the Lower Keys, federal prosecutors said.

But several locals consider the shooting a mercy killing for a buck that residents were watching slowly die while they waited for wildlife agencies to respond to their calls for help.

Wendy C. Kilheffer, of Big Pine Key, could face up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine if convicted of taking an endangered species, a misdemeanor.

Kilheffer, who appeared in U.S. District Court in Key West on Dec. 16, is free on a $10,000 bond. Her attorney, David Paul Horan, of Key West, couldn't be reached.

Key deer are the dog-sized deer that only live in the Lower Keys. They are protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami said Kilheffer fatally shot the deer on Nov. 16 on Big Pine Key, but offered no details in the paperwork they filed on Dec. 15.

Photos of one of the endangered Key deer that only live in the Florida Keys show a buck suffering on Big Pine Key. The buck was shot to death on Nov. 16, 2022, but locals call it a mercy killing. Federal prosecutors have charged a 77-year-old woman with the shooting.
Save Our Key Deer
Nonprofit Save Our Deer say this is the emaciated Key deer that was shot to death by a Big Pine Key resident on Nov. 16, 2022.

But Keys nonprofit Save Our Key Deer said on that day, the buck was in extreme distress and having trouble breathing.

After getting no response from federal or state authorities for two-and-a-half hours, a resident put the buck out of its misery with a shot to the head, the group said in a statement.

Save Our Key Deer said it doesn’t condone the shooting, but understands what led up to it.

The group said government agencies aren't doing enough to help maintain the health of the Key deer herd.

On Dec. 16, the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex urged people to call the hotline run by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission if they see an injured deer. The hotline number is 1-888-404-3922.

It's illegal for "unauthorized people" to approach the endangered Key deer, since they are protected by both federal and state law, the refuge said.

Officers contact a veterinarian who is federally permitted to treat an injured deer, the post said.

"In severe situations when injuries are deemed serious enough or the deer is not able to move or feed or survive on its own, then the officer is able to make the decision to euthanize the deer to alleviate its suffering," the refuge said.

Gwen Filosa covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. She has been reporting from the island chain for over a decade, from Cuban landings and the workforce housing crisis, to the oddities and charms of the Keys.
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