TAMPA, Fla. (WTSP) – A record number of manatees counted in the wild this year as part of an annual census could drive officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to move manatees off the endangered list.
An official with the agency said the announcement could come this month.
According to FWS spokesman Chuck Underwood, if the agency decides to reclassify the animals as “threatened," all existing protections would stay in place. He also said there is the possibility that additional conservation would be possible in the future, if necessary.
Dr. Ray Ball with Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo said whether the manatees are reclassified or remain on the endangered list, the zoo's mission of rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing manatees back into the wild will continue.
"We're going to continue to provide all the care that we have since the early 90s...and continue to do research manatee health and welfare," said Ball. "The Straz manatee hospital has been around for quite a few years now, and in that time period, we've treated over 400 manatees, and we were able to release about two-thirds of those."
According to communications director Andrea Alava, Lowry Park Zoo has the only permitted, nonprofit critical care facility for manatees in Florida.
Additionally, as part of a manatee awareness campaign, Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo has also started a petition to have developers create a manatee emoji for cell phones. So far, the petition has garnered enough signatures for the Unicode Consortium to consider the request.
For more information on the petition, click here.