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A day in a life of caring for Hope


Before I started out as a volunteer at Wildtracks on the manatee team, I naively assumed that all manatees were much alike: gentle seagrass-munching giants. Two weeks later, I have to take back my initial presumption, as I am astonished by how diverse the characters of each of the 7 manatees in rehabilitation actually are. The youngest of the lot, Hope has quite a personality!

My first encounter and bonding opportunity with her was during one of her pool changes. She inquisitively investigated me and almost immediately started nibbling on the cord of my swim shorts. The mischievous little manatee calf even managed to regain hold of the cord after I thought that I had safely tucked it away… Currently her intensive care pool gets changed twice a day and during this time one of the caretakers spends exercise (read “quality”) time in her larger play pool with her. It is an absolute treat to see her twirl in the water and play with her tennis ball. At times she gets a thrill out of actively chasing the person in the pool with her, while at other times she enjoys hitching a ride. She was born early August, so she is still a little baby! As manatees stay with their mothers until the age of 2, the human foster parents at Wildtracks provide her with plenty of contact, providing important social support, making the pool interactive play dates a vital part of her foster care.

To keep the compact “little sausage” of over 70 pounds nice and plump, she requires feeding every 3 hours. Going to bed late, getting up in the middle of the night or getting up early are all a very small sacrifice to make once you sit down in the pool and bottle feed little Hope, eagerly awaiting her next milk bottle. She is a very easy-going manatee calf and takes to new people with ease. She even assists with the bottle feeding by climbing on her feeder’s knees. She is also a very smart cookie. For instance before each feed we measure the temperature but she never mistakes the thermometer for her milk bottle. Instead she would be staring impatiently at the edge of the pool where the milk bottle is placed.

After finishing her bottle, she falls into what we refer to as her “food coma”. Sometimes she likes to snuggle for nearly an hour, and I just cherish every moment of it. At the end of a feed we place a frame of seagrass at the bottom of the pool for her. This is not only a tasty dessert for her, it also prevents her from getting bored and encourages her to learn natural foraging behaviour, further preparing her for her release into the wild.

Hope really is a delight to work with and every day taking care of her puts a smile on my face. It feels like such a privilege to play a small part along the way of her rehabilitation process before she will eventually be able to roam in the wild on her own!


Published by: Zoe Walker at 2016-12-22 08:00:31   [Link to this article]

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