There are some unhappy fans of manatees on Florida’s west coast. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to release five long time residents of Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. “Amanda”, “Electra”, “Ariel”, “Betsy” and “Lorelei” are female manatees who have lived in the enclosed park for many years, where they starred in daily programs during which they were hand-fed lettuce, carrots and other manatee treats by park employees and volunteers. The program has been very popular with park visitors.
The five have long since recovered from the injury or illness that brought them to the park. Homosassa Springs was intended as a rehabilitation center, not a zoo. According to the Endangered Species Act, the healthy manatees must be returned to the wild. On October 2, the hand-feeding was halted to prepare the manatees for their release.
In late September, the editorial board of the Citrus County Chronicle came out against the planned release, concluding, “…since these animals are doing well where they are, why not leave them alone?” The paper encouraged its readers to contact their elected representatives. The response has been mixed. Central Florida News 13 reported that Florida State Senator Mike Fasano is “doing everything he can” to keep the five manatees at the park. The Citrus County Commission is drafting a resolution in support of keeping the manatees captive. But U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite has indicated her support of the release, and State Representative Ron Schultz– although admitting that “it will be hard to see the manatees go”– said, “Obviously wild animals belong in the wild. There’s no doubt about that.”
USFWS spokesman Chuck Underwood nicely summarized the federal government’s position, “Just because they’ve been in captivity doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the right to live the rest of their lives in the wild.”
In February, Amanda and Electra will be the first of the park’s manatees to be released. Their new home will be Blue Spring on the St. Johns River. They will be fitted with tracking collars to allow scientists to monitor their progress. Success in the wild is not guaranteed, but we’re happy that they are going to be given a chance. It shouldn’t have taken so long.
You Can Help
Contact the Citrus County Commission and Rep. Fasano and ask them to soften their objections to the USFWS release plan. Tell them that wild animals belong in the wild. You can also mention that the release of the healthy manatees will create space for the park to accept manatees in need of care and rehabilitation.
Florida State Senator Mike Fasano
8217 Massachusetts Avenue
New Port Richey, FL 34653-3111
Phone: (727) 848-5885
Citrus County Board of County Commissioners
110 N. Apopka Ave.
Inverness, FL 34450
Phone: (352) 341-6560
Commissioner Gary Bartell, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Commissioner Dennis Damato, e-mail: email@example.com
Commissioner Joe Meek, e-mail: Joe.Meek@bocc.citrus.fl.us
Commissioner John Thrumston, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Commissioner Winn Webb, e-mail: Winn.Webb@bocc.citrus.fl.us