Manatees are members of the genus Trichechus, in the family Trichechidae. They’re fully aquatic mammals that can grow up to 13 feet in length and weigh up to 1,300 pounds. Manatees comprise three extant species, including the Amazonian manatee (Trichechus inunguis), West African manatee (Trichechus senegalensis) and West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus). These species have distinct habitats with separate populations.
The Amazonian manatee is the only species that lives exclusively in freshwater. It’s unable to tolerate heat loss, so it can only live in tropical waters. In the wild, the Amazonian manatee is found only in the Central Amazon Basin, primarily Brazil, eastern Perú, southeastern Colombia and Ecuador. Due to their remote habitat, the population of this species is difficult to estimate. The last detailed study was conducted in 1977, when the total population was estimated to be about 10,000. The current population is unknown, but wildlife biologists believe this species is in decline.
African manatees have the widest range of any manatee, consisting of coastal waters and rivers in West Africa. This species normally remains in the Atlantic Ocean during the dry season and travels as far upriver as possible during the rainy season, before descending again. However, various agricultural projects and dams such as the Diama Dam in the Senegal River and Felou Dam in Mali have permanently isolated populations of African manatees to fresh water.
The areas with the highest populations of African manatees include Guinea-Bissau, Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), the Sanaga River in Cameroon, the southern Niger River in Nigeria, coastal lagoons in Gabon and lower parts of the Congo River. The total population of this species is estimated at less than 10,000, but only a few of these countries have conducted reliable population studies. For example, Ivory Coast estimates that it has no more than 800 African manatees.
The habitat of the West Indian manatee has historically consisted of the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, including the Caribbean as far south as the northern coast of Brazil. However, hunting and loss of habitat among other factors has greatly restricted their range. The total population of these manatees is estimated at more than 13,000, with the majority of those along the coast of Florida due to concerted conservation efforts. Other countries with known populations of West Indian manatees include Puerto Rico, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica.
|Trinidad and Tobago