MIAMI: Wildlife authorities in Florida on Monday (Jan 11) appealed for help in identifying who was responsible for scratching the name "Trump" on to the hide of a manatee.
The appeal by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) came after the Citrus County Chronicle published video that clearly showed the name of the US president etched on to the back of one of the large, slow-moving marine mammals.
Craig Cavanna, an investigating officer for the federal service, told the local newspaper that he was unable to comment "on a current, ongoing investigation".
He said whoever was responsible faced a fine of up to US$50,000 and a year in a federal prison for harming a protected species.
The West Indian manatee, a species classified as "threatened" under US wildlife protection laws, was found on Sunday in the headwaters of the Homosassa River on the state's west coast, about 160km west of Orlando.
It was not clear when the animal was harmed.
A spokeswoman for the US Fish and Wildlife Service said the manatee did not appear to be seriously injured.
The Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit group that protects endangered animals, is offering a US$5,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in the case.
Manatees gather in the waters of the Homosassa River at this time of the year in search of warmer waters.
The shallow waters of the canals make the manatees accessible to tourists who take boat excursions to swim among the large but harmless creatures. That also makes the creatures more vulnerable to attack by humans.
Florida is home to around 7,500 of the gentle herbivores, which are related to elephants and have whiskers on their muzzles and a spoon tail. They are also known as "sea cows".
Despite their size - they can grow to 4m in length and weigh half a ton - they are easily hurt by the boats that speed around the state's waterways and coastal waters.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, of the 637 manatees that died in 2020, 90 were victims of collisions with boats and 15 others were killed by other interactions with humans.