Belize Orphans Survive And Thrive

Get an update on rescued manatee calves and how they are being prepared for release into the wild.

By Cora Berchem
Manatee Research & Multimedia Specialist, Save the Manatee Club
Date: June 1, 2019

In early April, Save the Manatee Club staff was able to visit the manatees at Wildtracks in Sarteneja, Belize. Hope, who many of our members may recall as being the smallest manatee orphan ever rescued in Belize in 2016, weighing only 24 pounds, is now a healthy 350-pound juvenile female who resides in the lagoon enclosure. She is with females Callie and Chikki in preparation for the next step of her soft-release process. Callie was rescued after becoming trapped in a fishing trap as a small calf, and Chikki was found stranded after a strong storm surge when fishermen picked her up and brought her to Wildtracks for rehabilitation. These three manatees are fed four times a day with a slurry of banana, Esbilac milk formula, and seagrass and mangrove leaves collected daily from the lagoon by volunteers. The dedicated volunteer team starts their day at 5:30 a.m. to prepare the first feeds and finishes at approximately 6:15 p.m. after the last daily feed is completed.

Cora Berchem feeds Callie at Wildtracks in Belize. Callie was rescued as a small calf after becoming trapped in a fishing trap.

In addition to the milk formula that is prepared four times a day, local aquatic plants are also incorporated in the manatees’ daily diet, which helps prepare them and their digestive systems for release. “We put a big focus on all the wildlife we rehabilitate having the opportunity to learn the skills they need for life out in the wild before they are released,” says Paul Walker, Wildtracks’ founder. Wildtracks has been taking care of manatees for 20 years with each manatee undergoing a soft-release process that slowly introduces them back into their natural habitat.

Manatees at Wildtracks in Belize
Lucky and Mitch — two of the manatees in rehabilitation at Wildtracks in Belize.

Manatees Mitch, Khaleesi, and Lucky have all completed soft release and are free in the lagoon. Lucky is still wearing a satellite tracking device so his movements can be monitored, and he tends to stay close to Mitch. Occasionally, Twiggy — a manatee who came to Wildtracks as an orphaned calf more than nine years ago and is now a healthy, wild adult female — stops by the lagoon enclosure to greet the manatees still in rehabilitation and allows her caregivers to see that she is thriving. “I remember Mitch and Lucky when they were tiny orphans,” says Chris Porter, currently Wildtracks’ Manatee Intern. “Seeing them fully grown and out in the lagoon exploring the nearby seagrass beds is just wonderful.”

Sandy, an orphaned manatee calf, is rescued in Belize.
Sandy, an orphaned manatee calf, is rescued close to Sarteneja by Wildtracks staff and the Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development.

But work for Wildtracks doesn’t stop here. On March 24, 2019, an orphaned manatee named Sandy arrived after being rescued close to Sarteneja by Wildtracks staff and the Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development. Sandy was estimated at three to four months old and was clearly malnourished and dehydrated. Her ribs were visible, and she weighed only 84 pounds. Sandy was placed in the recovery pool and received around-the-clock care by dedicated volunteers for the first few weeks of her stay at Wildtracks. Sandy got six bottle feeds per day, every three hours, between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m with volunteers taking rotating shifts to be in the pool with her between 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. and to check on her between 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 to 3:00 a.m. every night. Fortunately, Sandy took well to bottle feeding and, with supplemental pedialytes, she rehydrated quickly. She is one of the lucky manatees who receives Esbilac milk formula donated by Save the Manatee Club members. After only three weeks in intensive care, she gained nine pounds and has maintained her healthy appetite, which now includes seagrass. “I was looking for a volunteer opportunity in Central America,” says Charlotte Jolliffe, who is from England. “I had heard of manatees before, but never seen one, so this is a great experience”.

Wildtracks relies on generous donations from Save the Manatee Club members and supporters, including Esbilac formula and supplemental vitamins and probiotics for the manatees, as well as cleaning supplies, a drone to monitor manatees upon release into the lagoon, and expert scientific advice. Paul Walker expressed his gratitude to the Club and our members, stating that we have “become a core supporter” of Wildtracks’ important work. Thank you to all of our members and supporters who have made donations to help!


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