The Manatee, the ‘cow’ of the Sea. A Protected and Endangered Species
Legend has it that in the sixteenth century lived in Santo Domingo a chief name Caramatex who had a strange animal called Mato. This animal, according to history was a manatee; it was found by the Indians caught between nets.
They rescued and cared for him and the manatee played with the children and became part of their lives. When the chief found out, he was fascinated and gave him the name Mato, which means magnificent. They lived like this until the foreigners arrived and the Indians had to flee to the jungle. The manatee was alone and scared so he took refuge under water and just came up to breathe. A great storm flooded the lagoon and Mato disappeared.
Truth or not what is certain is that in the Dominican Republic, manatees are easy to see, an endangered species and protected since 1938.
But what is a manatee? This is a big marine mammal with a flat spatula-shaped tail and two flexible flippers in the front with three or four nails. No neck or hindquarters. It is gray but because of its somewhat rough skin, it may be covered with algae, which gives it a greenish color.
The lip has moving sides to capture its food and communicate. It has whiskers and six same sized teeth which are replaced a few times throughout its life. His eyes are small and cannot turn its head. The manatee can measure up to three meters long and weigh 500 kilos. The manatee is a quiet, intelligent and harmless animal. In the country is inhabited by the Antillean or Caribbean manatee, the largest of its kind (there are three other species of manatee) and the most agile. It can do flips, spins, jumps and you can even swim with them.
It is a herbivore that eats herbs and marine plants, hence, along its large size, it also called sea cow. It lives in shallow waters both fresh and salt. It cannot stand very cold waters and therefore it is a migratory species which looks for the warm waters of Florida in the winter. It can be seen in estuaries, rivers, streams, lakes and bays.
It is a solitary animal that forms groups during mating season. The gestation period lasts between 12 and 14 months and when the offspring are born a special bond with mothers who breastfeed arises for the first two years. Females usually give birth every two to five years and normally a single calf.
They communicate using the five senses and do it through whistles, chirps and squeals according to their mood. They communicate most at the time of mating and when caring for their youngs.
The manatee is considered an endangered species mainly by the actions of men, its largest predator. The indiscriminate hunting to which it has been subjected, added to the blows that these mammals get from boats and jet skis, pollution of waters, fishing nets including entangling and choking and the loss of habitat due to construction on the coast. The waters of low temperatures, other animals such as sharks and crocodiles and their slow reproductive rate are other factors to consider. Therefore it is a protected species in the country.
This marine mammal is hunted for its meat, skin and bones. The Caribbean already captured it before the arrival of the Spanish, who were impressed by the taste of their flesh. As for the bones, they were used to make crafts. Since 1962 it has been prohibited in the Dominican Republic, the sale of products made from manatee.
In the Dominican Republic there are some sanctuaries where you can see manatees in their natural habitat like the Estero Hondo marine mammal sanctuary, the largest shelter in the country with the largest number of specimen. It is located in Villa Isabela, Puerto Plata, in the northwest of the country.
The Jaragua National Park in the southwest, is one of the most important protected areas in the Caribbean islands and in which manatees also live. They also live in the sanctuary of the banks of La Plata and La Navidad (northeast) and the National Park of the East, among other places.
As legend has it the manatee is a harmless animal that interacts with humans. To enjoy a sighting of this mammal is an unforgettable experience.
TEXTO: Marta Marcos; IMÁGENES:Archivo
Tags: Fauna and Flora