Manatee Calf Rescued in Nigeria
On October 9 our colleague Dr. Edem Eniang rescued a 2-3 week old manatee calf that had been caught in a fishing net by hunters. The hunters had kept the calf in a well for 3 days and were planning to eat it, so the timing of the rescue was very lucky! This is the calf in the well… if you look closely you can see a small turtle above its nose.
Unfortunately, there was no way to release the calf back to the wild. There were too many manatee hunters and nets in the area, and no adult manatees had been seen. A calf as young as this would not be able to survive for long without its mother. Although we don’t know yet how long African manatee calves nurse from their Moms, it could be as long as for their cousins the Florida manatees- 2 years. Dr. Eniang brought the calf back to his house, took some measurements and its weight, and placed it in his fish pond. He then contacted me to ask how to care for it, and we began searching for an aqaurium that can raise the calf and provide it proper veterinary care.
The pool has now been filled with plants, which the calf is eating (we think African manatees may start eating plants much sooner than Florida manatees) and Edem and his graduate students are feeding the calf a special milk formula developed for baby manatees.
We are grateful to our friends at the Manatee Conservation Center in Puerto Rico and my graduate student Jonathan Perez (who helped raise Victor, the orphan manatee in Gabon, a few years ago) for two care packages sent to Nigeria with bottles & special calf nipples, milk powder and vitamins.
We also started looking for a long-term home for the calf. Unfortunately there are no public aquariums in Nigeria that have the ability to care for a manatee, but within two days we had heard from 5 aquariums around the world who offered to take the calf. We chose the facility we believe will best be able to care for the calf, while also contributing to African manatee education on the African continent. We’re now in the process of obtaining the correct permits for the calf, and once that’s done we can announce the facility.
In the meantime I’m traveling to Nigeria next week to help Edem care for the calf and to meet with officials to discuss the transfer of the calf to its new home. I’ll write more as I travel!