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City And State Point Fingers Over Death Of East Harlem Deer

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A Harlem deer that was first slated to be euthanized and then spared to be relocated has died while awaiting the trip upstate.

As CBS2's Tony Aiello reported, the city and the state are pointing fingers at who is to blame.

City officials said Friday that the deer died as a result of being under a lot of stress while in captivity.

The deer's death came after the city said, despite its concerns, it would hand over the deer to the state Department of Environmental Conservation to be relocated upstate.

The city and the state had been at odds over the fate of the white-tailed deer since it was caught Thursday near West 155th Street. It had wandered out of Jackie Robinson Park, where the one-antler buck had been drawing crowds for about two weeks.

Many had been hoping for a happy ending to the story of the Harlem deer.

"You never hear about a deer coming to east Harlem. That's the first time I heard of a deer in east Harlem," Terrance Moore said.

"He made it all the way to Harlem. At the end of the day he's a survivor. You can tell!" Prince Miller said.

The deer left Jackie Robinson Park and began to roam around Harlem. The city captured it and planned to euthanize it, consistent with New York State DEC policy.

"The poor chances for deer survival do not warrant the risk of relocation," the policy reads.

Sarah Aucoin, chief of Wildlife and Education for the city's Department of Parks and Recreation, said earlier Friday that euthanizing the animal was the "best, safest, and most humane course of action."

"Moving the deer to a new place would likely have caused the animal a great deal of suffering and would have been inhumane on many levels," she said in a statement.

Aucoin said the lower temperatures in our area combined with the time the deer has spent tranquilized and held in captivity would have also made injury or death "all the more likely."

Then, the Cuomo administration suddenly intervened -- insisting it could relocate the deer.

"We offered yesterday to take possession of the deer and transport it to a suitable habitat. 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," DEC spokesman Sean Mahar said in a statement.

The animal was being held in an enclosure at Animal Control on East 119th Street where a city rep reacted to the state's unusual offer.

"The state is the regulatory body and we defer to them," Same Biederman, NYC Parks said, "They can come and get it."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday had directed the DEC to offer assistance to the city in relocating the animal to a new habitat.

But according to the state's website, "A DEC permit is required to capture and relocate deer. Permits are not issued to relocate deer to the wild because acceptable release sites are not available and because the poor chances for deer survival do not warrant the risks." 

Two hours later -- while checking on the deer -- workers found it dead.

"We offered yesterday to take possession of the deer and transport it to a suitable habitat. 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," Mahar said in a statement Friday.

The city had a slightly different spin.

"Because of the time we had to wait for DEC to come and transport the deer, the deer has perished," Biederman said.

To many political observers, the deer may have found itself in the crosshairs of an ongoing feud between fellow democrats Mayor de Blasio, and Governor Cuomo.

"It's always been personal between mayors and governors, and we can't discount that element, but it's also institutional as well and I think that the governor is occasionally looks for these opportunities to remind the mayor of who's the boss," former NYC Council Member Ken Fisher said.

It could also be that Governor Cuomo is a major animal lover. He tried to intervene with feds last month when a whale got stranded in Moriches Bay, it too was euthanized.

"It's understandable for people to feel empathetic about the deer, you know they want to feed them and be nice to them, it's wildlife. But it actually is harmful for them to feed them and to take care of them like that," wildlife expert Alex Pecchioni told CBS2's Jessica Moore.

Pecchioni is often called in to recapture animals on the run and return them to their natural habitats.

"If you're feeding them on a consistent basis, they start foraging for themselves less and less. They become less and less used to that," he said. "And also specifically in the winter, if you're supplementally feeding them and it's the incorrect food source, they can actually develop diseases."

The city blamed the deer's untimely death on stress, but Pecchioni said he believes disease was likely the culprit.

Even so, he said he thinks it would have survived back in the wild.

"There's not much of an acclimation process there if it still has an understanding that it has to forage for its own food, it'll be completely fine," he said.

On Friday night, the activist group 'Friends of Animals' was critical of both the city and the state, saying wildlife agencies don't handle the tranquilizing of animals very well, and that bureaucracy prevented the deer from being relocated immediately, which would have been its best chance of survival.

"I really am shocked, because I was hoping the best for the deer," Kashana Wilson, of South Bronx, said.

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