Earth Day celebration at the DWA was once again an international experience. This year we participated in the release of three Amazonian manatees (Trichchus inunguis). After the release of five manatees in 2011, this event was equally exciting because we knew the efforts in rehabilitating the animals were succeeding and those previously released had made the transition back into their natural environment.
It took a lot of work and team effort to prepare the manatees for release, the final stage of their rehabilitative process. The previous stages involved the introduction of a special milk diet and weaning from the milk to natural vegetation that would be their food for the rest of their lives. This process can take months to four years, depending on the size and condition of the orphaned manatee calves when they arrived. A specialized team of biologists and veterinarians carefully observed and recorded their daily conditions and corrected any physical issue to help ensure these animals were completely healthy when released.
Released this year were Aantu (male) and two females named Marina and Requena. Aantu was one of the first manatees received at the rescue center in Iquitos, Peru in 2008. The manatees were taken by an army hydroplane to the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, which is far away in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. Prior to the flight, the manatees were removed from their ponds in Iquitos, weighed, measured, and blood samples taken. They were each placed in a wooden container inside a plastic stretcher that was covered with a sheet of foam cushioning. Water was continuously sprayed over the animals, allowing for a safe and more comfortable flight while out of water.
On the morning of April 21st, after an hour flight from the army airbase in Iquitos, the manatees and three keepers landed on El Dorado Lake in the national reserve. Another group of biologists had arrived a day earlier to prepare the small manatee holding tanks. This team also prepared the big pre-releasing pen where the manatees would spend a couple of weeks before being on their own in the lake. Several additional people made the seven-hour trip by boat, including Luis Sigler, Conservation Biologist from the DWA.
On April 22nd, another hydroplane arrived with Daryl Richardson and several public officials, researchers and reporters, including: Dr. Luis Campos (IIAP), David Panduro Tafur (Director of DIREPRO Loreto), Jose Grocio Gil Navarro (Chief of the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve), Vanessa Sanchez (DIREPRO Ucayali), Ernesto Raez Luna (Environment Ministry Assessor), Cecilia Cabello Mejia (Protected Natural Areas Director) and Oscar Portocarrero (Forestry and Wildlife General Direction). The officials had the pleasure of giving each manatee a final pat as they slid into water that would lead to their permanent home. As with the manatees released in 2011, these were likewise equipped with a transmitter attached by a special belt. This allows biologists to track them by use of an antenna/receptor. Last year the transmitters allowed tracking for eight months, after which time the belts disintegrated and dropped off. This provided important information about the movements and eating habits of the manatees in their permanent environment.
We are confident this second group of manatees will find their way back into the natural environment from which they were drastically removed or separated from their mothers a long time ago. With the care and enthusiasm of the DWA team, they have been given another chance!