The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating the harassment of a manatee discovered with the word “Trump” carved into its back, officials said Monday.
The manatee was found swimming on Sunday in the Blue Hole headwaters in North Florida, The Citrus County Chronicle first reported.
Manatees, nicknamed “sea cows” because they eat seagrasses and other aquatic plants, are considered “threatened” by the Fish and Wildlife Service, after previously being classified as “endangered” until 2017.
“This abhorrent action goes beyond the bounds of what is considered cruel and inhumane,” Elizabeth Fleming, a senior Florida representative at Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement. “I’m disgusted that someone would harm a defenseless creature to send what I can only assume is a political message. We will do everything in our power to help find, arrest and successfully prosecute this coward.”
The Center for Biological Diversity has announced a $5,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in the investigation.
“It’s heartbreaking that this manatee was subjected to this vile, criminal act,” Jaclyn Lopez, the center’s Florida director, said in a statement. “It’s clear that whoever harmed this defenseless, gentle giant is capable of doing grave violence and needs to be apprehended immediately.”
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One can only assume that the mutilation was politically motivated, said Elizabeth Neville, senior Gulf Coast representative at Defenders of Wildlife.
But this is far from “the only scar borne by manatees due to politicians’ destructive choices,” she said in a statement.
“Other scars include policies that favor unsustainable development and polluting industries, hamper communities’ abilities to address plastic trash in our waters and impede progress on fighting climate change.”