Have you ever tried to pet a wild animal? It’s probably not the safest thing to do, but it could also land you in jail with a hefty fine, it seems.
A 53-year-old Florida woman was arrested at the Sears where she works on Saturday after being photographed in late September playing with– and seemingly trying to “ride”– a wild manatee.
The Tampa Bay Times has the wild background to the story:
A bystander got photographs of a woman perched atop a manatee on Sept. 30, and the case gained attention after law-enforcement officials launched a public campaign several days later to identify her.
Shortly after Sheriff Bob Gualtieri’s Oct. 2 press conference to decry the alleged abuse of the animal, Gutierrez phoned the agency and admitted touching the manatee. She later told sheriff’s deputies she didn’t know that doing so was illegal.
The case was referred to the Pasco-Pinellas State Attorney’s Office, which issued the misdemeanor arrest warrant.
Under the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act, sea cow molestation is a second-degree misdemeanor, an offense punishable by a $500 fine or up to 60 days in jail. [Emphasis added]
Yes, there is a “Manatee Sanctuary Act” that, according to NBC News, makes it “unlawful for any person at any time, by any means, or in any manner intentionally or negligently to annoy, molest, harass, or disturb or attempt to molest, harass, or disturb any manatee.”
Less clear is how authorities determine if– by your negligence– you have annoyed a manatee.
Authorities added that the manatee was not physically hurt, but that the “psychological impact” of the encounter would be harder to evaluate, the Tampa Bay Times relates.
During a press conference Sheriff Gualtieri told Gutierrez to “go ride a jet ski.” She has been released from jail on a $1,500 bail.
Here is video of the authorities requesting the public’s help to find Gutierrez in early October, via ABC: