Beloved Harlem Deer Dies of Stress, Thanks to Bureaucracy
Jackie Robinson Park in Harlem had a rather unusual visitor earlier this month: an adult, male, white-tailed deer who somehow ended up in a park that’s surrounded by urban sprawl.
The docile buck, known as J.R. (for Jackie Robinson), Lefty (because of his broken left antler) or #HarlemDeer, became a local celebrity. Although park workers discouraged it, visitors and passersby fed him apples and carrots. They said it seemed like J.R. was “practically posing for pictures.”
How J.R. ended up in the park is a mystery. To get there, he may have swam across the Harlem River, crossed a bridge from the Bronx, or wandered over from the nearby and much larger Highbridge Park.
Because New York state law prohibits capturing and relocating deer that aren’t injured or posing a danger, J.R. was left alone by park officials, who planned to keep an eye on him and monitor his health.
As the days passed, residents urged city officials to relocate J.R. to a safer place, fearing he might get hit by a car if he left the park.
“Should the city successfully capture this deer, it would likely be euthanized,” Richard Simon, director of wildlife unit for the city’s parks department, said in a statement at the time.
So when J.R. was tranquilized and captured Dec. 15 after he jumped over a park fence and ended up in the courtyard of a public housing complex, animal lovers feared the worst. On advice from wildlife experts, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said J.R. would be put to death.
When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo heard about this, he offered to get help transporting J.R. upstate, even though the state won’t issue permits to relocate deer due to the lack acceptable release sites and the slim chances of deer surviving the move.
.@NYSDEC:We want to do everything we can to save the Harlem deer. We have told the city that the feds or we can transport it upstate today.
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) December 16, 2016
De Blasio turned down Cuomo’s offer. “It’s a question of is it going to be a quick and merciful death versus potentially a very long painful process,” he said on a radio show, according to the New York Times.
But Cuomo persisted, and the New York State Department of Environment Conservation (DEC) stated it wanted to do everything it could to save J.R. It would relocate the deer — with or without the mayor’s consent.
As the governor, mayor and other officials spent a day and a half going back and forth on what to do with J.R., the deer languished in a caged area outside a city shelter in Harlem.
Would J.R. have survived the trip north? We’ll never know. Just as the DEC arrived to fetch him from animal control, J.R. died due to the stress of being in captivity.
.@EricFPhillips Bureaucracy lost.
— Rich Azzopardi (@RichAzzopardi) December 16, 2016
The state vs. city finger-pointing feud continued after J.R.’s death.
“Unfortunately because of the time we had to wait for DEC to come and transport the deer, the deer has perished,” city parks spokesman Sam Biederman said at a press conference. “This was an animal that was under a great deal of stress for the past 24 hours and had been tranquilized for much of that time.”
The DEC, on the other hand, blamed city officials for taking too long to decide J.R.’s fate. “We offered yesterday to take possession of the deer and transport it to a suitable habitat,” it stated. “The city did not accept our offer until just before noon today, and while we were arriving on scene the deer died in the city’s possession.”
— Steve McLaughlin (@SteveMcNY) December 17, 2016
According to the New York Daily News, under “normal circumstances,” the meat from deer carcasses is donated to shelters. But because J.R. had been shot with tranquilizers, his meat was unfit for human consumption. How sad that because of squabbling officials, J.R. was finally transported – not to a safer place, but to a crematorium.
Photo credit: YouTube