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At this Florida jail, the inmates are also zookeepers.

Stashed in: Stories, Crime!, Florida!

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Only in Florida?

The zoo formed in 1994, when a deputy noticed a group of ducks occasionally losing one of their flock to passing cars. A group rounded up the ducks and placed them in a new home — the space where columns, built to raise the jail off the ground and brace for flood, had formed an empty space underneath the building. As word went around Key West that the jail was taking in animals, more and more people began dropping them there.

“We call that the coconut telegraph,” Selander said.

Several years later, the zoo, having been cited with multiple USDA violations, was ready to shut down. But Selander, who had a degree in marine biology and extensive experience with animals, saw potential in the space. “I told the sheriff I would make it something special if he would give me the reins,” she said. “He gave me the responsibility to do what I could to bring in new animals and bring it back up to code.”

Ten years later, the zoo has 150 animals, including a sloth, a lemur, kinkajous, exotic snakes and lizards, rabbits, ducks, geese, pigs, miniature horses, birds and more, and a thriving program to place inmates in work positions there.

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