When the rainy season starts in South America, we know it is time to release another group of rehabilitated orphaned manatees from our Rescue Center in Iquitos, Peru. It is the mission of our staff in Iquitos to do everything possible to see the manatees remain safe and free in their natural environment.
We have been working for years with each of the four manatees that were released on Earth Day, April 22, 2014. The group included two females and two males: Yanayacu, Yuri, Sol and Liberty. Yanayacu was one of the first manatees rescued by ACOBIA – DWAZOO in 2008, when the center was created. She was so small and malnourished that it took six years for her size and weight to be deemed suitable for release.
We selected the release site of San Juan de Yanayacu, the oxbow “Lake Moena” in the Yanayacu River, a tributary of the Amazon River in the Tanshiyacu -Tahuayo Reserve. In preparation for the event, the education staff at the center presented lectures to local children and their parents about the importance of the manatees, as well as other animals and plants in the ecosystem. From these meetings, the students came up with the idea to compose a song for the manatees, which was sung by the children during the release ceremony. The men of the community assisted with transportation, assembling of the pre-release ponds and water changes. The importance of involving local people, of all ages, in this project is seen by the pride they express in being able to feel ownership and better understand what we are trying to accomplish with the investment of time, effort and funds.
As in the previous three releases, each manatee was equipped with a VHF transmitter attached to a belt around the base of the tail. The receptor is carried by a biologist and their movements can be tracked for one year. Interesting information has been obtained about the movements of previously released manatees, indicating their foraging behavior includes aquatic grasses and other plants.
Correspondence from our resident biologist reports the four recently released manatees are doing well. The older ones, moved almost immediately far from the releasing area, while the small ones remained in the lagoon. It is important when Amazon manatees are released that they have enough time to understand the water dynamics; now the forest is flooded, but in another month, the water level will decrease and the manatees can get trapped in small water holes without access to the rivers and may not survive. By use of the tracking devices, we can determine if everything is good or if they need our assistance.
Local, regional and national media and authorities were present at the ceremony. Those present were impressed with DWA’s work and commitment to the conservation of the Amazonian manatees. DWA participants in the release were Daryl Richardson (Director), Luis “Zammy” Sandoval (Senior Manatee Keeper) and Luis Sigler (Conservation Biologist). The participation in the release and support of our 16 staff members, plus dedicated volunteers at the Amazonian Rescue Center (CREA), is exemplary and to be commended.