Over the weekend, Florida officials received reports of a manatee that had President Donald Trump’s name carved in it. They’re now looking for information on who committed this wildlife crime that has left permanent scars on on this gentle sea cow.
The manatee was reported to authorities over the weekend after being found at the Blue Hole on the Homosassa River located near the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, which sits near the Gulf Coast about an hour and a half north of Tampa. The name “TRUMP” is clearly etched on the back of the animal, seen in video and photos that are simply chilling. News of the animal abuse scarring was first reported by the Citrus County Chronicle.
Manatees are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is prime habitat for them with its ample shallow seagrass beds where manatees spend most of their time to graze and swim around. The area is a popular spot to swim with the gentle giants. Threats to them include boats, which frequently kill and scar them, fishing gear, and the disappearance of said seagrass habitat due to development and pollution. Algae blooms are also putting added pressure on them, as are naturally occurring stresses like cold weather that can stun and kill them. Unfortunately, we can add someone willing to carve Trump’s name into their back to the list, too.
It can take years to rehabilitate injured manatees at specialized centers—as if we needed another reason to be outraged by seeing one that was essentially tortured for no purpose. This particular instance of cruelty is outrageous and the crime should be punished, but it’s also important to remember the long-term violence against wildlife for which the president himself is responsible.
Trump has listed the fewest endangered species of any president, period. He has also weakened the Endangered Species Act that protects manatees and other wildlife facing extinction. Just last week, the Trump administration finalized changes to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that will make it easier for companies to kill birds in the U.S. without any consequences, and it auctioned off more of the Arctic to drilling that will put caribou, polar bears, and other species at risk. The tortured manatee found in Florida is a sad icon of how the past four years have played out for wildlife.
Federal and Florida state laws prohibit harming manatees. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, “Anyone convicted of violating state law faces maximum fines of $500 and/or imprisonment of up to 60 days. Conviction for violating federal protection laws is punishable by fines up to $100,000 and/or one year in prison.”
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said in an email that “anyone with tips about this case to please call us at the FWC’s Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-3922,” which will be passed onto federal officials investigating the case. Earther has reached out to the federal Fish and Wildlife Service for more details and will update this post of we hear back.
Update 1/11/21, 7:52 p.m.: In an emailed statement, a FWS spokesperson said the manatee did not appear to be seriously harmed based photos and video, and that it “seems that the word was written in algae on the animal’s back.” The agency is still investigating the incident, though.
“West Indian manatees are essential members of the ecosystems in which they inhabit and are protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act,” Aurelia Skipwith, the director of FWS, said in an emailed statement. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is aware of this incident and is working closely with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. If you have any information regarding this case, please call our wildlife crime tips hotline at 1-844-397-8477 or email us at FWS_TIPS@FWS.GOV.”