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Mar 26, 2013

Rehabilitated manatee released into wild

Throughout the year, manatees are injured or killed at sea by water traffic. The rehabilitation of injured manatee falls largely on the shoulders of a conservation group that treats them to be released back into the wild. It could be a long process but it is certainly costly. The center is located up north and it is manned mostly by volunteers. On a recent visit, News Five’s Joe Sanchez met Twiggy, a calf that had been rescued and treated.


Jose Sanchez, Reporting

On the outskirts of Sarteneja, in Corozal Town, is the home to Wildtracks, a conservation organization dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of manatees. The photo shows a tiny calf in the hand of Jamal Galves a Manatee Associate who along with another conservationist rescued the calf called Twiggy over three years ago.


Jamaal Galves

Jamaal Galves, Manatee Research Associate, Sea to Shore Alliance/CZMAI

“She was found around Heusner Caye. They called us and said that there is this young manatee swimming along the Caye alone for some hours and usually a mother wouldn’t leave a calf for such a long time. So once we got there and monitored the situation, we realized that she was alone and we caught her and on her face she had scars; maybe had gotten hit by a small boat or something.”


Paul Walker, Director, Wildtracks

“Twiggy was rescued with the coastal zone group three and a half years ago and very emaciated, dehydrated condition; a lot of cuts on her. She was an orphan; her mother had been separated from her at least several days from how dehydrated and emaciated she was. The cuts in her face and flippers and tail probably resulted from attacks from barracudas—I guess you can say that she looked like she had passed through a cheese grater. She was a real struggle from the beginning and we actually called her Twiggy after the skinny British Model who wanted to keep skinny because it seems like Twiggy just didn’t want to put on weight.”


Injuries and deaths caused by mariners are common problems for manatees. Galves has regularly examined the carcasses of dead manatees.


Jamaal Galves

“2012 has been the worse year up to date; we had twenty-two deaths last year—fourteen of which were the result of water craft collision. Many were undetermined due to decomposition state and many go unreported and unseen so the twenty-two is still not the exact amount. So as it is twenty-two is a lot of money for us to have dead. With the population that we do have, it is a high population in this side of the world, but that number isn’t a stable number.”


Rehabilitating a manatee is expensive work. To fund the project, Wildtracks does consulting work and receives donations from a Manatee Club in the US, Sea to Shore Alliance and a group called “help we supply the milk”.


Paul Walker

Paul Walker

“Milk is our biggest single cost and a manatee consumes a huge amount of milk; several gallon of milk a day, very concentrated milk, so that is our biggest single expense. We run fundraiser when we have to build new facilities like the big concrete pools.”


Jose Sanchez

“What would be approximate cost for example a year for Twiggy?”


Paul Walker

“Just in terms of food, it’s about seven thousand Belize dollars a year roughly for one manatee. It varies from one to another depending on the size, the amount they consume, but it is roughly seven thousand Belize dollars and that is more than available in a country like Belize which is why we have to have international partners. We can’t raise that amount of funding for an endangered species within country; so we are totally dependent on foreign input.”


The three years of Twiggy’s rehabilitation took place in several tanks on the Wildtracks compound.


Paul Walker

“It took a good six to eight months before she started put on weight. She’s been through the usual very intensive rehabilitation process; over three to three and a half years to get to the size and condition and learn skills that she needs to go back in the wild, so this is her final phase.”


Jose Sanchez

In terms of the actual rehabilitation, I notice you have three tanks; what do you actually do with these mammals?”


Paul Walker

“When they first come in, the small calf goes into intensive care pool; we have them under twenty-four hours observation for the first two to three days recoding respiration rate, buoyancy problems, digestive tract—getting the baseline information after which we monitor their progress over the coming months. They are fed every two hours with a milk formula for the first few minutes and then every three hours and then you start cutting out some of the night foods—a very labor intensive process over the first several months while still little. We gradually move to a larger pool during the day, back to their home pool in the night and then gradually into bigger pool day and night. The middle phase, they go into the lagoon enclosure, which is a fenced area of the lagoon where they have natural water movements, tide, wave action, different types of shades under the mangroves and so forth. Then we take them loose into the lagoon, teach them how to eat sea grass, how to find sea grass. Under supervision for the first few months and then as they get bigger out all day on their own; into the wild population. She has all the skill sets she needs to live within the system here the next phase is just to lead her out through the lagoon out to the coast and then supervise and monitor her movements as she learns the geography of the coastline here and meets the wild population.”


The volunteer crew then corners Twiggy in the water and raise her onto shore with on a tarpon. While one person keeps her moisturized with buckets of water, her measurements such as her weight, and distance between eyes, are taken. The rusted tag is cleaned.


Paul Walker

“We’re very fortunate to have support to provide us with a satellite transmitter and the sea to shore has the belt fastened on her and it is an amazing step forward. But also during the first two or three months, we’ll actually have a crew out on the coast physically overseeing her movements as well. So we’ll have on the ground and on the sea information on where she is as well as the satellite information that is coming in that will enable to see how she is using the sea grass beds, how she is interacting with the wild population, how she is using the deep water and the warm water and the fresh water sources which in turn will help inform us about how we go about strengthening the system for the next releases because we have another one that should be released later this year as well.”


And like a proud father, Galvez gives his grown child a pat, but must now allow that child to find its own path in the world.


Jamaal Galves

“It’s always a soothing feeling. It is ironic because it is sad and happy at the same moment. You get so close to these animals after they’ve been with you for such a long time and not wanting them to leave. But it is a positive feeling inside that all the work that you’ve gone through gave you positive results and you are putting back another mammal that can contribute to the population that we have in Belize; that we boast so much of.”


Twiggy is then lowered back into the water. One of the volunteers raises a gate to let her out, and within moments she’s gone. Later in the year, Wildtracks will release another rehabilitated manatee into sea. Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.

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3 Responses for “Rehabilitated manatee released into wild”

  1. Storm says:

    Thanks to Wildtracks and all the dedicated workers, as well as the financial supporters. This story should be shared widely among among our population. It’s a great, uplifting contrast to the bad stories that usually dominate the news.

  2. lol says:


  3. Nancy says:

    Congratulations to Paul & Zoe – for caring so much for Twiggy. We would love to help and welcome any of the rehabilitated Manatee to the Manatee Sanctuary in the Southern lagoon. It is a safe and friendly place for Manatee

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