Manatee and Primate Rehabilitation
The tiny Central American country of Belize punches well above its weight in terms of wildlife. Just offshore a large population of West Indian manatees make their home in the warm coastal waters, a habitat that forms an important part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. These gentle herbivorous creatures live their entire lives (up to 50-60 years) in the water and have no natural predators, yet are all too often injured or orphaned by irresponsible fishing and boating accidents. This project gives you the opportunity to rescue and rehabilitate manatees while educating local populations about the animals’ threatened existence. It also gives you the chance to get to know the diverse Belize culture, where English is the official language but Spanish, Creole, and an assortment of other languages are also widely spoken.
You will work with a Manatee Rehabilitation Centre (the only one in the Region) founded in 1998 to care for orphaned or injured manatees found in Belizean waters. It was here that Belize’s first rehabilitation of an orphaned manatee took place, and ‘Woody’ was successfully released back into the wild after more than 2 years of care. Volunteers played a critical role in Woody’s rehabilitation, and that of all of his successors, helping provide the 24-hour intensive care in the early days, and then sharing the duties of feeding and pool cleaning as he grew. With the assistance of grants from donor agencies the Centre’s facilities have been upgraded significantly. Three concrete pools and a lagoon enclosure provide the space and housing options to suit the needs of manatee calves at various ages. The Centre generally has one or two manatees in care at any one time, but with increasing boat accidents, numbers needing such care are unfortunately likely to increase. You can help nurse these impressive creatures back into the wild while helping raise awareness in the Belizean community.
Work is shared among volunteers, and involves all aspects of manatee care. This includes food preparation of the milk replacement formula, bottle-feeding in the water, clean-up, support during transfer between pools, regular weighing, medical check-ups, etc. Carers also spend time working with the calf, providing companionship in the water in the early developmental stage, and monitoring behaviour. Other essential activities include emptying, cleaning, filling and maintenance of the pools to ensure a clean environment for the calf or calves.
As the manatee grows older, it is led out into the open lagoon to be taught how to find and eat sea grass and learn the many other skills needed for life back in the wild. As these skills are acquired, and care becomes more hands-off in the approach to release, there are also public awareness activities that you can get involved with, increasing interest and knowledge among locals towards support for conservation of this threatened species. This includes visits to schools in the idyllic local fishing community, one of the stakeholder communities of Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, established by the Government of Belize for the protection of the West Indian Manatee.
You may also be asked to help respond to calf strandings, should they occur elsewhere in Belize whilst you are stationed with the Rehabilitation Centre – which may involve helping release calves accidentally caught in fish-traps, or capture of injured or orphaned calves in need of rehabilitation.
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