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Pasco County kangaroo died hours after being captured on Sunday

Published Jun. 8, 2013

The kangaroo that spent last weekend on the loose in Pasco County until its pursuers tranquilized, Tased and tackled the marsupial on Sunday died that night hours after it was captured, officials said.

The combination of tranquilizer darts and the stress of escaping and being roughly corralled likely killed the 5-foot-tall, 200-pound animal, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The male kangaroo died of cardiomyopathy, or "excited delirium," said FWC spokesman Baryl Martin on Friday.

The FWC also said that the animal died in the same kangaroo farm north of Dade City that investigators now believe it originally escaped from.

The owner of that facility, John Chatfield, told deputies last weekend that it was not one of his kangaroos. But FWC investigators now believe that the animal did, in fact, belong to Chatfield.

He was the only person in the area who has kangaroos on file with officials.

Investigators inspected Chatfield's farm on Thursday, according to the FWC, and cited him for improperly caging the kangaroo, allowing it to escape.

Investigators had sufficient evidence and witness interviews to determine that Chatfield owned the kangaroo, Martin said.

The misdemeanor charge could result in a fine of up to $500, up to 60 days in jail, or a combination of the two.

Chatfield did not return calls for comment from the Tampa Bay Times on Friday.

But while the FWC cleared up the mystery of the kangaroo's origins, the agency was unable on Friday to clarify this issue: when, exactly, did they learn that the animal had died?

Martin said he did not find out about the kangaroo's death until Friday afternoon.

He did not know whether Chatfield had called the wildlife commission to let them know the animal had died. The spokesman was also unsure when investigators themselves found out about the death.

Officials had to take the kangaroo to Chatfield's commercial farm, Martin said, because it was the best-equipped facility to hold the animal. Chatfield keeps more than 50 kangaroos there.

Wildlife investigators are still inspecting Chatfield's facilities, Martin said, but they are more focused on the kangaroo's escape rather than its death.

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office said it would not comment until a necropsy was performed on the animal and an official cause of death was determined.

Martin said the wildlife commission investigators who were corralling the kangaroo specialize in captive wildlife. A kangaroo in Central Florida is almost normal to them. But he said kangaroos are particularly prone to excited delirium.

"It is not out of the realm of possibility that this would happen," Martin said.

The man who caught the kangaroo knew that, too. Kevin Wehling, 46, said on Friday that he watched a kangaroo capture on TV about a year ago. He remembered that the kangaroo's weight mattered — it correlated to how much tranquilizing the animal's body could take. Keeping the kangaroo calm seemed important, he said, and the people on the show gave it some sort of antidote for the drugs.

He was worried when he came face-to-face with the real thing in a Lacoochee pasture on Cummer Road on Sunday — but not for himself.

Wehling went out there to help deputies. Tranquilizers and nets had already failed. He noticed a little blood on the kangaroo, just enough to get his attention.

He knew it was trying to run, not to fight, when he wrestled the animal down into a ditch. Wehling said he tackled the kangaroo to keep it safe — and the people chasing it.

"Even when it came running at me down the sidewalk, it made eye contact," he said, "and it looked halfway between me and that fence, and it had tunnel vision toward freedom."

Contact Clare Lennon at (727) 869-6262, clennon@tampabay.com or @clarelennon on Twitter.

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