|Regional Management Plan for the West Indian Manatee, Trichechus manatus|
|CEP Technical Report No. 35 1995||All CEP Technical Reports|
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Status and distribution
Manatee populations in Honduras were said to be plentiful in the late 19th century (Husar 1977) but have dwindled in the past few decades. They persist in the wetlands of Honduras' extensive coastal plain (Cerrato 1993 unpubl. report) where they encounter freshwater sources, shelter from open ocean, and abundant vegetation. Such areas include rivers and lagoons east and west of La Ceiba, rivers east of Trujillo, and rivers and lakes of La Mosquitia in eastern Honduras (Klein 1979, Rathbun et al. 1983a, Cerrato 1993 unpubl. report). The latter consists of the largest wetland in Central America and contains the Rio Plátano Biosphere Reserve; it represents the largest potential manatee habitat and is the least populated and developed area in the country. Manatees are said to occur in lagunas de Brus, Ibans, Rapa, Guarunta, Biltamaira, Tilbalaca, Siksa, Tansin and Caratasca (Klein 1979, Rathbun et al. 1983a, Cerrato 1993 unpubl. report). No recent records are available for manatees in the Islas de la Bahia (Klein 1979, Rathbun et al. 1983a, Cerrato 1993 unpubl. report). Important manatee areas east of La Ceiba are Río Aguán and adjacent lagoons El Lirio and Guaimoreto; west of La Ceiba manatees occur from El Porvenir to Zambuco-estuary of the Colorado, and from Río Lean to the estuary of the Chamelecón river (Cerrato 1993 unpubl. report). During the dry season (November through April) many rivers and lagoons may become landlocked, trapping manatees inside (Rathbun and Powell 1979 unpubl. trip report).
Rathbun et al. (1983) conducted aerial surveys and interviews with local residents in 1979 and 1980, determining that manatee numbers in the country were low. A 13-hour comprehensive survey of the Atlantic coast and most inland waters yielded a maximum count of 11 animals, most of them in coastal rivers and lagoons (coast near Zambuco, Laguna de Boca Cerrada, Laguna de Tansín, and the mouths of the Río Lecan, Río Cuero, and Río Salado) (Rathbun and Powell 1979 unpubl. report). The percentage of calves during the surveys was high. Cerrato (1993 unpubl. report) estimates the manatee population in Honduras between 120 and 140 individuals, based on boat and aerial surveys and interviews with fishermen and local residents. Main populations are said to occur in a) area between Chamalecón river and Punta Sal,;b) area between Zambuco-Colorado river and El Porvenir; c) Bacalar, Ibans and Brus lagoons, and Plátano river; and d) Caratasca lagoon (Cerrato 1993 unp. report).
Major threats and conservation problems
Substantial illegal hunting continued into the 1980's (Lefebvre et al. 1989) but manatee harpooning has decreased in importance in the past 10 years as a result of protective measures and protected areas. The most important threats faced by manatees in Honduras today are the widespread use of fishing nets, loss of habitat, and possibly the use of agricultural and industrial contaminants. Gill nets, set perpendicular to shore, have been a major hazard to manatees since they first appeared in Honduras in the 1960's. Rathbun and Powell (1979 unp. trip report) described instances of nets closing off the mouths of many rivers and lagoons.
It is suspected that pesticides and contaminants may be detrimentally impacting manatee populations in Honduras, although no studies have been conducted. The basin of the Sula (especially at the mouth of rivers Ulúa and Chamelecón) in close proximity to Punta Sal National Park, is thought to be one of the most affected areas. The decline in manatee numbers has been attributed by villagers to an increase in dugout canoes with inboard diesel engines ("tuk-tuks") (Klein 1979).
Socio-economic significance of the species to local communities
Miskito Indians (native residents of La Mosquitia) and Garifuna (Carib negroes) have probably exerted a continuous low-intensity hunting pressure on manatees until past the middle of this century, using traditional methods (Klein 1979, Rathbun et al. 1983a, Cerrato 1993 unpubl. report). Pre-Columbian pottery found in the wetlands of the present-day Refúgio de Vida Silvestre suggest that the manatee was part of the daily life of early Hondurans. Manatees are said to exert some control over the growth of aquatic plants in rivers, canals and coastal lagoons (Cerrato 1993 unpubl. report).
National legislation and conservation measures
Article 49 of the Fisheries Law (Decree No. 154 of 1959) provides total protection to manatees in Honduras, prohibiting the take of manatees or trade of their products. However, enforcement is lacking due to personnel shortage and difficulty of access to remote areas. Honduras is Party to the CITES Convention but it has not signed the SPAW Protocol.
Wildlife refuge Refúgio de Vida Silvestre Cuero y Salado, protected by law and supported by Fundación Cuero y Salado (one of the strongest private conservation groups in Honduras based in La Ceiba) was created specifically with the purpose of manatee preservation. It grants 100% protection to manatees in the area, and in addition improves local awareness. Punta Sal, 40 km west of Cuero y Salado, and its coastal lagoon have recently been declared a marine national park. Some protection is also provided by the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve, in Ibans Lagoon (Cruz 1991 in litt., Cerrato 1993 unpubl. report).
There is no national environmental education programme dedicated to the conservation of manatees. Educational lectures are offered on Reserva de Vida Silvestre Cuero y Salado and Parque Nacional Punta Sal, at the local level (Cerrato 1993 unpubl. report).
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Preface and Objectives | Summary | I. Introduction | II. National Status | III. Short and Long-term... | IV. References | Appendix I | Appendix II | Appendix III | Table 1 | Manatee Map