But they’re also home to a gaggle of other critters that almost no one would expect to find in the island chain. Like an emu named Kramer after a character on television’s “Seinfeld.” A pair of alpacas. An energetic ring-tailed lemur from Madagascar. And a 10-year-old two-toed sloth dubbed Mo.
While it might seem strange that all those creatures can be found in the subtropical environment of the Keys, it’s even stranger that they’re all “roommates” — at a unique and wonderful facility called the Sheriff’s Office Animal Farm.
The “farm” really does stand on the grounds of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office detention center (in other words, the Keys jail) near Key West. Its animal inhabitants are primarily cared for by a group of the detention center’s inmates — each of them screened and approved to work there and interact with the public.
The farm opens its gates from 1 to 3 p.m. on the second and fourth Sundays of every month, and eager visitors from kids to seniors flock to it to observe and “meet” the resident animals.
Especially for visiting kids, the place provides a chance to get a close-up view of traditional farm animals like donkeys, goats, pigs and velvety rabbits that seem to enjoy being petted.
And observing the more exotic creatures is a rare treat for virtually all the visitors.
The farm began in 1994 in an open area underneath the jail facility (which was built on stilts). Its first inhabitants were some homeless Muscovy ducks and Keys chickens, who were joined shortly by a blind horse found abandoned in Miami. Inmates built a pen for the horse, subsequently named Angel, and the population expanded from there. Many animals came from abusive or neglectful homes, while others were donated by people no longer able to care for them.
For nearly a decade the animal park and its operation have been overseen by “Farmer” Jeanne Selander, a staff member at the Sheriff’s office — and it has proved to benefit the animals, inmates and visitors who fall in love with the place.
Today, the animal family is surprisingly large and diverse. It includes peacocks, pythons, African spurred tortoises, a somewhat shy black bull named Angus, a crocodile or two, a pygmy goat named Domino among other goats, and a blonde skunk called (really!) Chanel. An alpaca named Snowflake appears to be the unofficial greeter, and Kelsie the lemur can hardly contain her excitement when visitors pause outside her cage.
But the undisputed star of the facility’s animal kingdom is the two-toed sloth, whose name is Molasses but has been shortened to Mo. His long, thick fur is smooth to the touch and his affectionate nature makes him a favorite with visitors.
“He’s the perfect Key West animal,” said Jeanne Selander. “He’s laid-back.”
“Farmer” Jeanne and Mo receive regular invitations to appear at special events and festivals in the Keys, and she’s happy to transport him. The easygoing sloth wraps his arms and legs comfortably around her body to be carried and seems to enjoy his outings.
“Everybody wants Mo — I’m just his roadie,” Jeanne quipped.
Admission to the captivating farm is free, but donations are accepted and much appreciated. And for those who can’t stop by personally, it’s possible to “meet” the farm’s residents via its Facebook page.