Wildtracks: Conservation, Research and Education

Wildtracks blog

Manatees, manatees, manatees...Kathryn shares her thoughts on her time as a manatee carer at Wildtracks


Hi, I'm Kathryn! I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to volunteer at Wildtracks in January and February 2014. I left with many amazing memories from Wildtracks and assisted in the care of some wonderful animals.

Wildtracks has helped to rehabilitate and release many manatees over the years, starting in 1999 with a baby manatee named Woody. The species of manatee found in Belizean waters is the Antillean Manatee, one of the 2 sub-species of the West Indian Manatee. Wildtracks' newest and smallest intake has come in the form of a beautiful female calf, named Khaleesi. Khaleesi is one of three manatees currently being cared for at Wildtracks. She had been found against a breakwater when she was only a couple of days old it is thought that her mother had been trying to take her through waters that were too rough for little Khaleesi to swim in. A reunion was attempted between Khaleesi and her mother, however she was then found alone again with no sign of her mother and a bruised right shoulder. She was then brought to us here at Wildtracks where she was put on a 72 hour intensive care watch. At this point, Khaleesi weighed just 39 lbs.

During the time I spent at Wildtracks, I was lucky enough to get to work closely with Khaleesi, and became one of her 5 feeders. Two of the feeders are Paul and Zoe, the founders of Wildtracks, who are beyond dedicated to the care of these animals. For a long time, Khaleesi wouldn't put on any weight, staying at a plateau of 37/39 lbs, and was at this weight when I arrived. For a feed, Paul and Zoe would sit in the water with Khaleesi, and she would feed easily from the bottle. However when this method was tried with others, Khaleesi wouldn't feed. Luckily Zoe came up with a new method to test, and Jaimy, one of the Sarteneja contingent of the multi-national Wildtracks Team, was able to feed her. By raising Khaleesi out of the water on a foam-covered ramp held in place by someone sitting in her pool, she would accept milk from new people! Once Khaleesi was feeding in this method, Zoe trained myself and another volunteer, Michelle, to feed her. I felt so lucky and privileged that I was able to assist in the care of such an amazing animal.

It has been a constant battle to get Khaleesi to gain weight, and a topic that was of great concern to everyone at Wildtracks. I was so happy to see the visible difference in Khaleesi's weight in my time here at Wildtracks. You can actually see that she has grown, which is very exciting! She is visibly rounder and becoming a little fatty - every time we lifted her, she felt slightly heavier!. Luckily in manatee terms, putting on weight and becoming rounder is what we look for. Khaleesi is such a little fighter to have come so far!

Now that we have come out of the cold spell, Khaleesi is able to spend a lot more time in the lagoon, and has even progressed in this. It began with someone being in the water interacting with her for the entire time, then just someone sitting at the edge with their legs in the water, and now to her being left to her own devices, with her pink lilo, which acts as a "homebase" and reassurance, as it is always present in whichever pool she is in.

The next step for Khaleesi is an eventual move to our "growth pool" for learning skills such as eating sea grass and the steps towards her soft release. After learning and growing in the growth pool, she will be taken out into the lagoon and shown how to graze and find seagrass, and start her journey to once again becoming a wild manatee.

Having had the privilege to work with Khaleesi, as well as Duke and Rhamases, is an experience I will never forget. It is also amazing proof that if enough dedicated people care about the future of these animals, no orphaned, injured or abandoned manatee is a hopeless case, and that at Wildtracks, they will have probably one of the best chances in the world of getting released back into the wild and ensuring the continued viability of this amazingly gentle species. Needless to say, I will be heading back to Wildtracks, at some point in the future to see Khaleesi grow into, hopefully, a very big manatee!!


Published by: Zoe Walker at 2014-03-15 16:33:06   [Link to this article]

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