Celebrate Endangered Species Day

Endangered Species - Key deer

Endangered Species – Key deer

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Endangered Species Day is May 17. Forty years ago, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) became reality. Ever since, state and federal wildlife agencies have worked together to ensure no wildlife ever goes extinct. But there’s more to the ESA than most people know.

Those dedicated folks who tend to our endangered and threatened species also want to put themselves out of a job. As important as tending to those already in trouble is the effort to keep common species just that. Common species need to remain common.

wood stork

wood stork

I’m proud of the time I spent in the communications sector of Florida’s wildlife agency. I worked on projects involving endangered, threatened, and common species. I wrote news releases when Florida declared the bald eagle was no longer an endangered species. I helped develop public relations materials for the sea turtle, manatee, and panther. I walked around neighborhoods talking with residents on how to keep coyotes out of their yard. I did the fun stuff, but my colleagues – the biologists – did the heavy lifting.

manatee

manatee

One of my favorites was Elsa Haubold, Ph.D. She headed up the revision of Florida’s Endangered Species Plan. I had the pleasure of serving in her group as the communications person. Elsa and Nick Wiley, executive director of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, wrote an article for The Wildlife Professional in the Spring 2013 issue. The article “State Perspectives on the ESA – A Journey of Conflict and Cooperation” provides a framework for the challenges to make sure wildlife remains in the wild.

So happy Endangered Species Day. I’ll end today with a photo of one of my favorite wildlife species – the sea turtle. The hatchling below is a loggerhead, which is a threatened species. What’s your favorite wildlife?

seaturtle7

Leave Gentle Giants Alone

manatee in Wakulla Springs near TallahasseeBy P.C. Zick

manatee in Wakulla Springs near Tallahassee
By P.C. Zick

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Florida manatees flock together in the winter as they head to warmer waters. As the temperatures dip in the ocean and river mouths, some water remains at a constant temperature. Power plants with their warm water discharges are an attractive gathering place for the sea cows, which can cause some confusion when boats need to come in and out of those areas. Manatees swimming near the rivers that lead to freshwater springs head to the 72 degree constant temperature of the water flowing up out of the Floridan aquifer.

It becomes life threatening when the large mammals don’t get to the warm waters in time. Cold-stress syndrome may cause the manatees respiratory problems as well as confusion.

Manatees are gentle creatures and unfortunately show little fear when around humans. But the biggest threat to the endangered species is man and his boats. Also, add humans who insist on touching, playing, and filming interactions with manatees.

One man found out recently that the cost of taking pictures of him hugging a young manatee and his children sitting on the calf’s back is quite high. Ryan William Waterman took his daughters to Taylor Creek in St. Lucie County, located on the east coast between Daytona and West Palm Beach. A young manatee, somehow separated from its mother, swam up to them. The young man took pictures of his children and him playing with the manatee. Then he posted the photos on Facebook.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) found the pictures and arrested Mr. Waterman in February.

When my husband saw the photos, he said, “The manatee doesn’t seem to mind.”

Maybe. But the biologists with the FWC fear the manatee may have been separated from its mother too soon. Also, the calf exhibited signs of suffering from cold-stress syndrome. The manatee may not have minded or been afraid of the seemingly harmless play by humans, but that doesn’t negate the fact that it’s harmful in the long term, and as Mr. Waterman found out, it’s illegal.

The FWC issued a statement via a new release about the arrest, which states, “An interaction that may seem harmless and innocent may ultimately have serious consequences for manatees and other wildlife.”

In the case of manatees, the act of playing with the sea cow falls under the Florida Sanctuary Act making it illegal “to injure, harm, harass, capture, or attempt to capture” a Florida manatee. Violation of the Act is a second-degree misdemeanor with charges up sixty days in jail and a $500 fine.

The allure of the manatee and other animals of the wild is tempting, especially when we see them in controlled environments in zoos, theme parks, and aquariums.

But when wild animals lose their fear of humans, we become their enemy, not their friend.