Habitat destruction and in some cases deliberate killing are the main threats to the manatee population. Although figures on the total manatee population are unknown, recent studies show that in some areas of their original range the animals no longer occur. At present, the distribution of manatees is patchy, which means that only small, isolated manatee populations still exist.
According to the IUCN Red List, the overall population of this South American manatee subspecies is declining and is therefore classified as endangered.
YAQU PACHA is collaborating with PROYECTO SOTALIA in Venezuela to compile scientific information on the Manatee - Manati(Trichechus manatus manatus). Projects have been carried out to study basic biological and ecological data, as well as threats to the species throughout its range in Venezuela, with a particular focus on Lake Maracaibo, as it is one of the main distribution areas of the species.
This herbivore is classified as endangered nationwide in Venezuela, and it is estimated that its population has declined by almost 80% as a result of hunting, bycatch, loss and habitat destruction. Considering this problem and the data obtained, the Manatis project has made efforts to strengthen education and awareness programs and apply conservation strategies based on citizen participation, with positive results. Ecotourism, using manatees as a flagship, has helped to raise awareness and create greater understanding in communities, which has curbed hunting.
Manatees in Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela: research and education activities for their protection.
Summary of activities in 2022
During 2021, social networks, interviews and visits to different fishing ports on Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela identified areas where manatees are still observed. In particular, in the community to the north of the lake in the Ciénaga de la Palmita Nature Reserve, where the presence of the species was detected, a connection was made with local fishermen to produce the report. throughout the year of observations, strandings or bycatch that occurred. This was very productive, because during 2022 we were able to confirm the birth of a new calf and the constant presence of a group of 8 manatees during the 12 months, a number that can be considered low, but since it is a shrunken population. in 80% of its total national distribution, it is an exceptional news and an opportunity to monitor manatees and understand the characteristics that this region of the lake offers and that are ideal for their persistence. The notes highlight that there have been 45 manatee sightings in Venezuela and at least 15 times the individuals have been observed feeding on the shore of Ruppia maritima, which occurs in a very shallow area and the transparency of the water allows easy observation of the individuals.
Only one incidental catch of an adult was reported, which was released alive from the nets in this area.
Of the new ports visited (5), only 4 reported observing manatees in 2022, with a total of 9 sightings distributed among 3 on the east central coast of the lake (San Timoteo), 3 in the northwestern region (San Carlos and Zapara Islands and Maracaibo City), 2 in the southwest (Puerto Concha), and 1 in the southeast.
From these records, it is worth highlighting that for the second time he was able to observe a group of manatees mating on the shore of the lake in the city of Maracaibo. This event was recorded by people in the city and widely circulated on social networks due to its novelty. In the video, 4 individuals can be seen, 3 of them stalking the manatee female, one of which was a juvenile, considering its length. These data, along with data collected in September 2021 on the first record of courtship and mating in Lake Maracaibo, will be recorded in a scientific note.
In general, the few reports in the lake may be due to the low density of the species, difficulty in observing it, survey errors, or a combination of all these factors. Fishermen often have more information about bycatch, mortality, and events, but because this is a prohibited and punished activity, they are afraid to report events and some do not participate in surveys. In 2022, 35 fishermen between the ages of 19 and 62 could be surveyed.
In order to get more participation from fishermen, we are trying to revisit these areas repeatedly to make connections and build trust to get better quality data. Similarly, we continue to use snowballing during interviews, where one participant recommends another, which helps to build greater interest among respondents because they understand there is no risk in sharing their information.
Printed information about the species was taken with each visit, and 3 conferences were held, with 87 people attending.
We also worked hand in hand with the Fitlosophy ecotourism company in the north of the lake, which works to disseminate information about endangered species in Lake Maracaibo. During each expedition, tourists receive a presentation on Guyana dolphins and manatees, and the company's staff have infographics on both species and knowledge, as they have already been trained and guided on what aspects to emphasize when explaining dolphins and manatees to tourists.
In 2022, a total of 531 people participated in the kayak tour, mainly Venezuelans, but also tourists from Colombia, Argentina, Panama, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, the United States, Spain, Turkey, India and the Czech Republic.
- Increase search for information to identify areas of higher presence and mortality of the species.
- Create a map of frequent manatee sightings and areas where manatees are most at risk as a suggestion to decision makers.
- In areas where tourism is already developed, maintain communication and assist with materials, lectures, and other issues they need to promote manatees as a tourist attraction.
- Conduct research to estimate the frequency of encounters with the species in areas where their presence has been frequently noted.
Our species conservation organization, YAQU PACHA, has been active in Latin America for 30 years protecting endangered aquatic mammal species. You can support our work in species protection with a donation or membership.
Project Seals | Project Bottlenose Dol phin | Project Bottlenose Dolphin | Project Sea Otter | Project Sotalia Dolphin | Sotalia Dolphin | Project Chilean Dolphin | Team Latin America | Fishermen in Brazil and the Toninha | Project La Plata Dolphin