On Sunday July 4th, I joined the first official visit to Xcaret to check on Belize's biggest baby, Hercules the Manatee. Accompanied by Nicole Auil, Bob Bonde, Allonso Alessi and Endhir Sosa we drove the six-hour journey to visit the magnificent creature that had consumed our lives for ten days, back in April, following his stranding in the Belize River.
After a short presentation by Roberto Sanchez we got to see Hercules in his new home. A brief hush settled over us as we first saw him - no matter how seasoned and experienced one might become, it is difficult not to be affected by the sight of one of the most endangered mammals in the world and the sobering thought that none of us might get the opportunity to show our grandchildren such a creature in the wild.
A look around the faces of our party quickly demonstrated the positive side of this dilemma - the Coastal Zone Management group, and many others, are absolutely dedicated to the saving of animals such as Hercules - there could be a bright future.
Hercules is doing very well and appears to be thriving in his new environment. Roberto informed us of two cases of enterocolitis (diarrhoea) shortly after his arrival, but after a treatment with antibiotic things rapidly returned to normal. Causal factors include, most certainly, the eight hour journey he undertook, along with the handling, new food and environment, so it was to be expected in many ways. For the most part, Hercules is well and putting on weight under the very good care of Roberto and his team. They are hoping to introduce another manatee to Hercules, which will help ease his confinement and encourage his eventual release into the wild.
I have to declare a certain crisis of conscience upon learning that Hercules will be placed on public display. Although he will have a place to hide and naturally moving water in his new home, there will be the inevitable noise, glass tapping and commotion that goes with the paying public parading past such a rare and beautiful creature. Stress can have a very negative affect on the physiological well being of an immature manatee.
After weighing all sides of the argument, I cannot ignore some of the benefits, albeit reluctantly. It is only by inspiring children with the magic of the actual animal that we will breed the next generation of conservationists. It is only by using him to attract them to this place, that educators can inform and motivate children to care and take notice.
Then there is the financial area. Belize cannot at this time provide for Hercules. Xcaret can, for the sole reason that they are a thriving marine park attracting millions of dollars in revenue. Might there be a case for the study of a park here in Belize, proudly demonstrating the kaleidoscope of wildlife we have to offer - and at the same time, ensuring that a good proportion of the revenue go to the conservation and care of animals such as Hercules. We may then see our neighbouring Central American countries, first bring their strandings to Belize for professional care and, in the long term, start their own parks upon realization of what vast natural resources we all have in this beautiful part of the world.
The wildlife population has to be managed with care. Hercules is being managed with care and if one can only ensure the right balance between conservation and attraction, we will all have the joy of seeing Hercules back home in Belize.
Bob Bonde has implanted a microchip under the right shoulder of Hercules so that we can always identify him in the future. We have an opportunity for possibly the first, lifetime study of a manatee. How wonderful to be able to track Hercules every six months, take photographs and video, and to study his territorial pattern, mating cycle and feeding rituals - for the rest of his life.
We owe great thanks to Xcaret for their time during our visit and for their continued care of Hercules.
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