SANTO DOMINGO – A group of specialists from the National Aquarium of the Dominican Republic are getting three manatees ready for their release back into the wild.
The mammals must learn to feed themselves and stay away from humans, who are accountable for the injuries that led to their rescue and captivity.
There are two female manatees and one male: Juana and Pepe are already eight years old and only lived a few months in their natural habitat, which complicates their adaptation to the environment, while three-year-old Lupita has been in captivity for two years, so she has a certain advantage to adapt to life in the wild.
The process of preparing the release of the three animals back into their native waters began a few months ago and involves, among other things, conducting medical evaluations to control the condition of their skin and their heart rate, the Ministry of the Environment told EFE.
Two assessments have already been carried out, although there are two other checkups with veterinarians pending before their release into the sea, expected to be in December.
Food, however, is a crucial aspect, since the manatees are used to being fed fruits and vegetables on the water surface. However, when they are in their natural habitat, these mammals feed on seagrass along the ocean floor.
The three manatees have already taken “a big step” because they have become accustomed to looking for their food totally submerged, thanks to an ingenious system of tubes located at the bottom of the pools that the animals have known until now as their home.
While the time to return them to the ocean approaches, their contact with humans, their main predator in nature and accountable for the injuries that led to their rescue, has been completely restricted.
For Juana, it is not a big problem. She has been elusive since her arrival at the National Aquarium back in 2012 from Las Terrenas, a town on the northeast coast of Dominican Republic, after being brutally attacked and bearing 10 stab wounds.
Lupita, who was named after the place where she was rescued in 2018, Luperon, is friendlier, albeit calm.
But Pepe, who was hit by a boat in 2012 in Haina waters, is very affectionate and constantly seeks contact with the center’s staff, who are forced to ignore his calls for attention and frequent attempts to approach.
The last step before releasing the animals will be to place trackers on them to follow their position when they are in open water, although the manatees will spend some time within a marine fence.
It will be necessary to determine in advance the exact point of the coast where the release will take place, with Bayahibe being the most likely enclave to establish that security perimeter that will be the introduction to the absolute freedom in the waters of the Caribbean Sea.