The saga of a single-antlered deer in Harlem ends tragically

By Karin Brulliard

The Washington Post

A deer with a single, unimpressive antler shot to local stardom in Manhattan earlier this month. The buck was an odd sight in an odd site: A patch of park in Harlem, lined with chain-link fencing.

His place of residence was a stone’s throw from a bodega and a subway entrance, the New York Times reported. Locals gave him treats and a nickname: J.R., for Jackie Robinson, the name of the park. They also worried that he would exit the park and meet his end while crossing a busy street.

On Friday, after a dramatic skirmish between the New York City mayor and New York governor over whether to relocate or euthanize the deer, the buck did indeed meet his end — but not the way anyone expected.

City officials said the white-tailed deer, who had just been granted an 11th-hour reprieve from euthanasia, died at a city animal shelter while waiting for state officials to take him to a wilder area upstate. “The deer was under a great deal of stress in the past 24 hours, and it died,” Sam Biederman, a spokesman for New York City’s parks and recreation department, told the New York Post.

Biederman noted that it had been the city’s preference to euthanize the deer since he was captured after ambling out of the park and into a public-housing complex on Thursday afternoon. It was unclear how the deer had gotten to the park in the first place. That morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office had said it would put the deer down, citing state wildlife officials’ guidance that there were only two options: The animal could be released only near where it was captured — which wouldn’t help matters — or be euthanized.

Predictably, that triggered outcry among animal welfare advocates and ordinary fans of the #HarlemDeer, as he had become known on social media. Thursday night, Gov. Andrew Cuomo offered to have the deer moved outside the city.

But by Friday morning, de Blasio was still not budging. At 11 a.m. on Friday, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Sean Mahar, said in a statement that the agency wanted “to do everything we can to save the life of the deer.”

Then, mere hours later, Biederman told the New York Post that the city had reluctantly agreed to the relocation.

“Because transporting deer causes them great stress, and because relocated deer have very low survival rates,” Biederman told the New York Post, “the city still believes that the most humane option here is euthanasia.”

The next hours were touch-and-go. Mahar said in a statement at 12:55 p.m. that the state was “securing the safe transport of the deer to suitable habitat upstate.” Less than two hours later, as reporters gathered outside the Harlem animal shelter to witness the transfer, Mahar broke the sad news.

“We offered yesterday to take possession of the deer and transport it to a suitable habitat,” Mahar said. “The city did not accept our offer until just before noon, and while we were arriving on scene the deer died in the city’s possession.”

De Blasio’s press secretary, Eric Phillips, explained the deer’s demise a bit differently on Twitter.

News of the deer’s death prompted an outpouring of dismay, anger and, naturally, wry jokes about the awfulness of politics and 2016 in general.

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