As America continues to bring to justice those who violently stormed the Capitol last week, a different breed of politically charged crime was discovered far from Washington. An endangered Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris) has been interfered with by a person or persons who etched the word “TRUMP” onto its back. News of the animal abuse was first reported by the Citrus County Chronicle.
The assault on wildlife is the latest in a strange and disappointing series of animals being branded in some way with political messages, with a bear having been found in 2020 with a Trump sticker attached to its tracker.
Florida manatees are afforded special protection owing to their vulnerability as both a threatened and slow-moving (easy to access) animal. These gentle giants are protected under the 1972 US Marine Mammal Protection Act, the 1973 US Endangered Species Act, and the 1978 Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act, and as such interfering with them carries a heavy penalty. Charges are brought upon anyone found to be involved in the interference, wounding, or pestering of these animals, and if found guilty they could be fined up to $100,000. President Trump himself signed into law the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act in 2019 that makes intentional acts of cruelty to animals federal crimes punishable by up to seven years in prison.
This most recent crime against manatees was first discovered on January 10, 2021, in north Florida’s Homosassa River. The letters scratched onto its back take up a significant amount of space on the animal's skin, indicating the degree of trauma the animal likely suffered and the severity of charges that will be brought to those involved.
“Manatees aren’t billboards, and people shouldn’t be messing with these sensitive and imperiled animals for any reason,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), in a news release. “However, this political graffiti was put on this manatee, it’s a crime to interfere with these creatures, which are protected under multiple federal laws.”
The CBD state in the release that it is offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to a conviction for the case of the mutilated manatee. It has teamed up with officials from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Anyone with information can reach them via the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation hotline at (888) 404-3922.
Manatees, also known as sea cows, are one of America’s most unusual and charismatic aquatic animals. They feed, cow-like, on water grasses, weeds, and algae and can munch the equivalent of a tenth of their own body weight in just 24 hours. Such a diet generates a lot of methane in their gut, and manatees have evolved to use this gas as a means of buoyancy regulation. By holding it in, they can passively bob to the surface like a floating potato, and when it’s time to dive they can sink to the bottom by farting. It’s easy to see why such a gentle and bizarre animal has won the hearts of so many. We must protect these gassy blimps at all costs.
Corrections: An edit was made to this article regarding the nature of the vandalism which was written into the algae on the manatee's back and not carved through its skin as previously stated.