October 21, 2010

Manatees in Danger

Today I visited ACOBIA-DWAzoo, Amazonian Manatee Rescue Center. Located 4.5 miles from the Iquitos airport, it took a good 25 minutes or so to get there. For S/10 (or about $3.60USD), you are granted admission to the bucolic preserve. A paved path leads you to a brackish pool covered with lush aquatic plants. It doesn't appear there are manatees in this pool, I thought, disappointed, when the water surface erupted with dozens of bubbles. We waited for the manatee to surface, but our patience is apparently not as great as the aquatic mammal's lung capacity.
Our guide Darwin told us about the threat of extinction of this gentle creature. Manatees' gestation is a year; the calf is then nursed for up to two years. Manatees are hunted for their meat in the Amazon, and the mother manatee is often killed before it can raise its offspring, resulting in many orphaned manatees. This shelter housed two youngsters: Nauta, and a new rescue that was yet to be named. The newer arrival was lethargic; it had apparently been malnourished and neglected, and had been relinquished along with another manatee which soon died.
Nauta, however, came over to the side of her pool and raised her large nostrils to the air and gave a curious snuff as we approached. We were allowed to touch the young manatee: all sleek and slippery, her body had the feel of a dolphin, but without a dolphin's feeling of ready muscular power. Instead there was the cushioned give of fat, or blubber; she narrowed her tiny blue eyes in either pleasure or perhaps resignation as I stroked her back and sides. I was then able to feed Nauta using a bottle with a ridiculously long and broad nipple attached. Nauta was a sloppy diner, letting part of her milk out of her mouth to cloud the water. Darwin said she was very well fed, and it reminded me of feeding a human baby: the nourishment derived from suckling is often strictly secondary to the comfort it provides.

After she finished the bottle, I stroked her head one last time and for just a moment she put her alien, bearded lips upon my finger and tugged at them with her mouth. She then dismissed me as not of interest and retreated to digest her meal, waiting for her new visitors.

It was an amazing experience; thank you Molly for taking me!

Written by Linda Schwefel

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