Amazon manatee

The Amazon manatee or South American manatee is an aquatic mammal that can be found in the rivers, swamps and wetlands of the Amazon River basin. The murky waters often make it hard to see the manatee and therefore accurate population numbers are unknown; however, they are believed to be in decline due to hunting and habitat loss.

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Trichechus inunguis Amazonian manatee Being cared for by a researcher Mamirauà, Amazonia, Brazil
© WWF-Canon / Roger LeGUEN

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Key Facts

  • Common names

    Amazonian manatee, South American manatee, Lamantin De L'Amazone, Lamantino Amazónico, Manatí Amazónico, Vaca Marina

  • status

    IUCN: Vulnerable A3cd ver 3.1

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  • distribtuion

    Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana and Peru

  • scientific name

    Trichechus inunguis

One of the 3 manatee species in the world, Trichechus inunguis is a river dweller that can reach 2.8 m in length and weigh half a ton. Manatees are found from the mouth of the Amazon River to the upper reaches of the tributaries of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana and Peru.

Their elongated and flattened rear end, paddle-like fore-limbs and hippo-like snout combine to make this one of the most unusual species in the Amazon.

Amazon manatees are exclusively vegetarian (herbivores), feeding on water lettuce and hyacinth. In the course of a day, they may eat up to 8% of their body weight. They feed mostly during the wet season, when there is plenty of new vegetation, storing the food in their fat reserves.

When the dry season returns, manatees return to the main rivers, where they congregate. During this fasting period, they rely on their stored fat reserves until food becomes available again.

They live in groups of 4 to 8 individuals and are also found alone. Gestation takes approximately 13 months, after which a single calf is born. In captivity, manatees have lived more than 12 years.

The Amazon manatee once had a range throughout the Amazon River Basin – but because of persistent hunting for its meat and oil, it has become a rare sight.

This species belongs to the order Sirenia, of which only 4 species remain today. The other 3 species are the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus), the West African manatee (Trichechus senegalensis), and the dugong (Dugong dugon), which inhabits coastal marine areas of the Indian and Pacific Ocean basins.
Range of the three manatee species / ©: Wikimedia Commons
The range of the Amazon manatee is marked in red. The green area indicates the range of the West Indian manatee and the orange area is the range of the West African manatee.
© Wikimedia Commons

What is WWF doing for manatees?

WWF projects in the Caribbean, Amazon Basin and West Africa contribute to the protection of habitat important for the manatee species that live in these regions.

 WWF projects that help protect manatee species habitat:


How you can help manatees

  • Adopt a West Indian manatee from the WWF-US Online Gift Centre.
     
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Did you know?

    • Manatees are also referred to as "sea cows"
    • The Stellar cow, a now extinct member of the manatee family (Sirenia), lived in the Bering Sea. This very large manatee was last seen in the 18th century.
    • Sailors used to refer to manatees as mermaids, which is why the manatee family are called "Sirenians", as siren is Latin for mermaid.

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