Legends about sirens are the only form of manatees that survived our times in Guadeloupe, French island in the Caribbean. Large, slow and found mainly in shallow waters, manatees were an easy catch for the hunters from colonization times. It is believed that Columbus said there were so many of them, that they could have been killed and eaten and would have never disappear.
But he was wrong. It’s been a century since the last manatee song turned into a long silence. The big Goyave River, once full of these gentle giants grazing on lush vegetation, is now empty. Only a few still remember, that Guadeloupe used to be a manatee home.
But does Guadeloupe remember? Do hectars of underwater grass remember that they used to feed the biggest herbivorous marine mammal on Earth? Are there still turtles old enough to remember the sunny days when they shared the grazing space with manatees? Is there mangrove forest that remember pregnant manatee females hiding in the darkness of murky water and tangled roots to give birth to her only calf?
Science says yes.
Manatees went extinct, but Guadeloupe’s nature is a rare treasure that is still well preserved. So well, that years of studies showed that manatees reintroduction in Guadeloupe is possible.
This, is where a new story begin. It’s a story of your times, which one day you may tell to next generation kids.
Guadeloupe National Park have launched the first in the world reintroduction program of a marine mammal in a habitat from which it went completely extinct – reintroduction of manatees.
Being a pioneer, however, is not an easy task. The project met several difficulties typical for innovative conservation projects of this kind, including finding suitable animals, obtaining support of local fisherman or the issues of international politics.
Years of hard work have nevertheless paid off and in 2016, two Antillean manatees were successfully transported from Singapore Zoo to specially designed facilities in Guadeloupe.
The historic moment turned into sadness and frustration when one of the animals, Junior, died suddenly. The whole team, together with international group of manatee experts, have put all necessary efforts to find the cause of death. They learned that Junior suffered from subclinical kidney insufficiency that did not give clinical signs back in Singapore. It evolved quickly after transport to Guadeloupe, triggered by stress and environmental changes. Sadly, there was no cure for Junior. The discovery, however, intrigued scientists who tested other captive manatees for kidney function. What they discovered, is that many had already been on early stages of the same disease as Junior, probably due to a diet inappropriate to their metabolism. As a result, the findings helped to adapt feeding protocols and save many captive manatees.
New hope opened for Guadeloupe when Mexico proposed a donation of 6 manatees. The cooperation was advancing in a good direction but was too slow to let the second manatee, Kai, live alone. For his wellbeing, it was decided to send him to Paris Zoological Park where he joined other mates. It is him that you see in our teaser!
For Guadeloupe, having to say goodbye to their so long awaited manatees was a hard test. The political support waned, internal conflicts escalated and, as a result, the reintroduction project was paused in 2018. Nothing has happened since.
Conservation reintroductions face multiple challenges and require an important local support and continuous learning to succeed. But reintroductions offer also a unique opportunity to bring back key species to where they went extinct from. This, in turn, means that they will be able to fill again their ecological role and in such way impact the whole ecosystem. They can make nature flourish again, we just need to help them take the first step.
In “Capture and Release” we believe that this unique opportunity should get its chance. We are working on a production of a documentary film “MANMAN-DLO” (“manatee” in Creol). With our film we want to restart the reintroduction project by raising awareness in Guadeloupe and gaining support of local politicians.
If our project correspond to your values and you would like to help us, please click here to find more about what you can do.