The Manatee of Trinidad
By: Kyle De Lima
For the past couple years I have had the intense desire to learn more about the status and health of the remaining Manatee in Trinidad.
I read everything I could find both on-line and in regular print about Trini Manatee and the unique threats faced by the species locally.
Last week I was fortunate enough to come face-to-face with a family of these elusive, gentle giants of the deep.
I have always been under the impression that Manatee always live in freshwater swamps and rivers, and only occasionally venture out into the ocean for short foraging trips. So I was surprised to find that this particular group of Manatee seem to live exclusively in the sea. Whilst there is a river that discharges fresh water nearby, we did not observe the Manatee entering it, possibly because of it being too shallow.
I like to think that I know a fair bit about wild animals, their behavior and the various pieces of general knowledge that is pertinent. I am happy to say that in my reading up on Manatee for the purposes of writing this article, I learned many new things.
The single largest threat faced by the species in Trinidad is habitat loss. Historically, Trinidad Manatee are known to live in the Nariva swamp and the Ortoire river, with occasional sightings reported in surrounding coastal waters. However, in more recent times, our human population has increased, and the increased demand for market produce, (crops) has led to , and will continue to lead to attempts by overzealous farmers to encroach on these sensitive areas. On the occasions that this type of activity has been stopped, the area that was to have been planted had already sustained enough damage that it would take years for it to return to its normal state.
Manatee are very slow reproducers. A Manatee reaches sexual maturity around 5 years old. Then females produce young every 2 – 5 years. Females usually produce one calf, although on rare occasions, twins can be born.
Estimates as to how large they can grow to range from 8 – 10 feet in length, and up to 1400 pounds in weight. I personally swam with a large one of these creatures and I can vouch that they are truly very bulky, but somehow they are able to maneuver underwater in the most graceful manner.
Fortunately for the herd I have been working with, members of the nearby community understand how fortunate they are to play host to these rare animals and have taken responsibility for their safety and wellbeing.
This is one of those rare instances in which a rural community has pulled together to preserve something wonderful and natural for the benefit of the ecosystem as well as for their own enjoyment.
These animals instill a sense of peace and happiness in the vast majority of people that come into contact with them, and it is my hope to see them for many more years in Trinidad.
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