Man Who Leaped On Pelican In Facebook Stunt Now Facing Charges

Florida sheriff vows "abuse of animals will not be tolerated on my watch."

A Maryland man who whooped it up in a Facebook video after leaping on and clutching a pelican in the Florida Keys is now facing charges, the local sheriff’s office reported Monday.

He is being charged with animal cruelty and molestation of a protected species by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay said in a statement.

The man, identified by The Baltimore Sun as 31-year-old Hunter Hardesty, can be seen on the video using a fish to lure a pelican in the water close to a dock at a Key West marina. He then jumps directly on top of the bird and grabs it as the pelican tries to escape. Laughter, apparently from his friends, can be heard as a woman threatens to call the police. After nipping at Hardesty, the pelican manages to flee, apparently unharmed.

After Hardesty posted a video of his wildlife encounter on his Facebook page Thursday, it quickly went viral, but not in a good way. People responding were furious. Hardesty goofed in his own comment with the video: “Next time ima eat him for dinner. I wonder what they taste like.” On Sunday he added: “I’m so hungry I could eat a pelican!”

Ramsay said he “shared the anger of those who contacted me regarding this video. This type of behavior — the abuse of animals — will not be tolerated on my watch.”

Ramsay thanked the public for the tips he received about the incident, adding that an investigation is continuing into other videos and photos on social media with apparently the “same suspect” grabbing animals. One shows a man clutching a Key deer, which is also a federally protected species, the sheriff said. Ramsay said additional charges could be filed.

Hardesty did not respond to a request for comment.