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I was a nanny for the most animal-loving little girl on this earth. Whether she was three years old or 11 years old, she’s always preferred exploring the great outdoors over sitting inside staring at a TV screen. Ever since I can remember, she’s had an affection for manatees. She begged her parents to buy her the stuffed animal sort, suggested trips to Florida to see them roam the waters, and she religiously wore T-shirts that said something along the lines of, “Save the Manatees.”

The growing list of endangered species is something to be sad about. Just last year the number of animals and plants at risk for extinction rose from 22,413 in 2014 to 22,784 in 2015. “Our natural world is becoming increasingly vulnerable,” explained International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) chief Inger Andersen.

But, in a success story that will give you hope for humanity, recent reports have noted that manatees, who have been listed as endangered since 1972, may be moving off of that list, now being downgraded to “threatened.”

Manatees are calm creatures who are sometimes referred to as sea cows. They can weigh in at a whopping 440 to 1,300 pounds, with a length of 8 to 13 feet. They’re herbivores, feeding off of both freshwater and saltwater plants. With a lifespan of 60 years, they cruise through life eating, sleeping, and traveling. By nature, they have no known natural enemies, which makes their depletion on this planet even more alarming.

Most of manatees’ deaths can be attributed to human activity, with nearly 25 percent the result of watercraft collisions. The most notable challenge these gentle giants face today is loss of habitat due to coastal development and poaching. Another major reason for their untimely deaths is the result of cold-related sickness, in which their aquatic environment proves to be much too cold for their bodies. Because they have very little body fat, they cannot tolerate water temperatures that fall below 68° F for an extended amount of time.

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The recent news regarding the potential change in the manatee’s safety status was announced last week as a result of wildlife officials believing that they are no longer in danger of extinction. “Today, we are announcing a proposal to reclassify the manatee from endangered status to a threatened status,” stated Mike Oetker from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“It’s like taking manatees out of intensive care and putting them in a regular care facility,” said Jim Valade from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

This proposal comes as a result of numbers showing the improvement of the Florida manatee population, which has risen by 500 percent, with more than 6,000 spotted off the coasts of Florida in 2015, and 13,000 overall. In 1991, the population of the marine mammal was a mere 1,267.

“The manatee’s recovery is incredibly encouraging and a great testament to the conservation actions of many,” announced Cindy Dohner, who is the Southeast regional director. “Today’s proposal is not only about recognizing this progress, but it’s also about recommitting ourselves to ensuring the manatee’s long-term success and recovery.”

However, just because they no longer face the immediate threat of extinction does not make their status any less valuable. Being “threatened” may mean they’re not at a dire risk of disappearing from our planet, but it does mean their livelihood is still in a poor state of affairs.

While the news may bring about a positive change for the species, not everyone is celebrating just yet. “You don’t celebrate when you’re not done with the game. There’s a lot more work to be done to safeguard the habitat, to get manatees removed from the Endangered Species Act altogether,” said  Katie Tripp, who is the director of science and conservation for Save the Manatee Club.

Last Friday marked the beginning of the 90-day comment period that allows the public to present evidence either for or against the proposal.

Image: Huffington Post


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