Most of us have seen a dog or animal carcass along a busy highway. But terrestrial species are not the only ones threatened by collisions with speeding vehicles. In Belize, being killed by a boat is the most common way for endangered manatees to meet their demise. Though Belizean officials have no verified estimate for the total number of manatees currently roaming Belize’s waters, a large percent of recovered manatee bodies are the victims of watercraft collisions. Reporter Maria Novelo sat down with Zoologist and Director of WildTracks, Paul Walker for part two of our conservation efforts to sensitize the public on the rich wildlife Belize holds and ways in which we can help them harmoniously survive in our borders.

Maria Novelo – Reporting

Between 2012 and 2013, there were 26 known boat fatalities of Manatees across the country. And with Belize boasting the largest Antillean manatee populations in region, this unfortunate trend is only going up year by year. But with conservations efforts from Wildtracks, the only Manatee and Primate Rehab Center in Belize, zoologists have strengthened efforts to protect one of the most iconic and threatened animals in the crystalline waters of Belize.

Paul Walker- Director, Wild Tracks

“Some of the vets were saying once the wool is damaged like that it will never recover better put him down, other were saying well they would be that negative my feeling tends to be optimist give the guy a chance and then he has improved. These are very much vegetarian animal and very passive, calm, quite gentle animals, as you know often called sea cows or mermaids even, but very, very gentle no aggression even if they are getting away a mother and a baby there is not aggression they are very much going to protect the baby and trying to push to get to the baby but the response is escape.”

Meet Ramises and Duke, these ten month old resident manatees at Wildtracks were victims of boat accidents at sea and the team here at Wildtracks took them in to recover fully before releasing them back in the wild. Paul Walker, Director of Wildtracks, says these are docile and gentle herbivores.

Of the 3 manatees currently in rehabilitation, a 4 and a half calf named ‘calisi’ is the latest addition to the family. Calisi was found washed up on the Corozal Bay a few months back.

Paul Walker- Director, Wild Tracks

“So far we’ve been Woody have been very fortunate and every manatee we released has survived, Woody is the first one he is being pick up several times by researchers and he is now living wild for twelve or thirteen years and is doing fine so it survival rate is doing excellent.”

One of the biggest threats says Walker, is the increasing instances of boat collisions.

Paul Walker- Director, Wild Tracks

“They have good hearing but the direction of hearing is poor so if a boat is coming fast they have very hard time identifying from which direction because the noise of an outboard engine dissipates so they have a very hard time to detect direction and unfortunately a lot will get hit, we see a significant portion of our manatees coming too weak, I think that manatees coming from creeks, and mangroves find very sheltered calm waters to calves and feeding the calves and spend two weeks there whilst they learning to swim and cope with the mothers then they getting hungry and they need to get out from there to sea grass beds. One of the ways we are trying to improve that is to have awareness sessions with boat operators to explain about best practice, how to show wild manatees to tourists in tour boat without hitting the manatees themselves and those training sessions are being very productive with a very good buying from the tour operators and the tour guides ones the mechanics on how to show manatees without damages is shared it would benefit and that hopefully will help reduce otherwise it exponential increase in number of manatees being hit by boats.”

And as a result, protection of such endangered and unique creatures like these Antillean manatees is critical. With this knowledge and more to come, we can strengthen the case for conservation of Belize’s ecosystem and its inhabitants. And doing so is important for demonstrating Belize's reputation as an oasis -- not just for sun-seeking humans on holiday -- but for marine biodiversity as well.

Walkers says little Calisi, the youngest manatee being housed at WildTracks, will see over 3 more years of rehabilitation time while the other two residents, Duke and Ramises are expected to be released in about ten months. WildTracks Rehabilitation Centre is well situated on the edge of Shipstern Lagoon, with access to abundant natural water resources and a natural lagoon environment suited for the long period of soft-release each manatee goes through prior to its final release.