The crystal clear waters around Belize are home to the largest population of manatees in the region. Â Sadly, however, at least 26 of these gentle creatures were killed by boats between the beginning of 2012 and the end of 2013.
It may come as a surprise to many living in Belize, but according to unofficial estimates based on the number of carcasses recovered, it seems certain that the vast majority of fatalities are due to being in collision with boats, often outboards. Â As the number of people moving into the area increases every year it seems inevitable that unless steps are taken to educate the public, these numbers will continue to increase.
Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of the staff at WildTracks Manatee and Primate Rehab Center, the future of the manatees is not as uncertain as it might otherwise be. Â Director of the center, Paul Walker, who is also a zoologist, is dedicated to making the public more aware of the rich diversity of wildlife in the country and educating them on how they can help conserve and live in harmony with the natural world.
Paul has started to run awareness sessions with private and commercial boat owners, educating them on how best to maneuver their craft safely when in the vicinity of creatures.Â He is especially keen to ensure that tour operators learn how to get their boats close enough to the animals for passengers to get a good view, without risking colliding with them.
In the past it was thought that once a manateeÂs hide was damaged it was unlikely to recover and, therefore, injured manatees were routinely euthanized.Â More recently this view has changed and they are now given the chance to recover.Â The animals, which are also known as sea cows, are incredibly gentle and completely lacking in aggression, even when a mother and baby are approached.
According to Paul Walker there are three manatees undergoing rehabilitation at WildTracks.Â The youngest is an 18-week-old calf named Calisi who was discovered lying on the beach at Corozol Bay several months ago.Â The other two, Duke and Ramises, are ten months old and were both hit by boats.Â It is expected that Calisi will spend at least three years in rehab before being released, while Duke and Ramises are due to be set free in around ten months.Â The first manatee to be rescued by the center, Woody, was returned to the wild over 12 years ago and is still seen quite regularly by researchers.
The center is ideally located on the edge of Shipstern Lagoon, which enables the manatees to have access to a sheltered natural environment for a period of time before being finally released.