|Regional Management Plan for the West Indian Manatee, Trichechus manatus|
|CEP Technical Report No. 35 1995||All CEP Technical Reports|
French Guiana (France)
Puerto Rico (USA)
Trinidad & Tobago
Status and distribution
Aerial surveys of potential manatee habitat in conjunction with interviews with approximately 150 local inhabitants were conducted in Venezuela in 1986. In spite of extensive favourable habitat, only 8 sightings were made. This may be at least partially explained by non-ideal survey conditions, however it is generally agreed that manatee numbers have been greatly reduced in the past few decades (Mondolfi 1974, O'Shea et al. 1988). Manatees do not occur often along the Caribbean coast, probably due to unsuitable habitat (O'Shea et al. 1988). There are only 2 recent records, one for the mouth of Neveri river, state of Anzoátegui, in 1990 and one for Puerto Cabello, state of Carabobo, in 1991 (Ojeda et al. 1993 unpubl. report). In contrast, eastern Venezuela offers favourable manatee habitat and reports are frequent along the Golfo de Paria in the states of Sucre and Monagas and in the Delta Amacuro Federal Territory. Rio Morichal Largo (Monagas) and Caño La Brea (Sucre), represent important freshwater sources. Sightings are also common throughout most of the Orinoco basin, including the delta. Manatees occur in low levels in northwestern Lake Maracaibo. They possibly also occur in swamps around the southwestern portion of the lake and portions of the 230.000 ha protected by the Reserva de Fauna Silvestre Ciénagas de Juan Manuel de Aguas Blancas y Aguas Negras (70.000 ha) and the Cienaga de Juan Manuel National Park (160,000 ha) (Mondolfi l974, O'Shea et al. 1988).
Major threats and conservation problems
Manatees were hunted in the area of the Orinoco even before 1800 and the meat sold in local markets for many years (Mondolfi 1974). Warao Indians and local fishermen take manatees for their meat, fat, and other products (Ojeda et al. 1993 unpubl. report). Hunting tradition is slowly disappearing in Venezuela because of manatee scarcity, difficulty involved in the task, and lack of interest of younger groups; however meat is still occasionally offered at more inaccessible places (Mondolfi 1974, O'Shea et al. 1988). The threat of intentional killing is presently being replaced by incidental human-related deaths. Entanglement in net fisheries occurs mostly in the llanos tributaries of the Orinoco (e.g., Apure and Portuguesa rivers), and often-times is followed by the slaughter of the trapped animal. A few boat collisions have already been reported in Venezuela (O'Shea et al. 1988). Land reclamation and habitat alteration due to fisheries, agricultural, and industrial development, are certain to affect manatee populations in the near future (O'Shea et al. 1988, Ojeda et al. 1993 unpubl. report). Dams in Apure state, Caño Manamo and the Tucupita dike have already altered manatee routine. Oil exploration with associated barge traffic and pollution is intense at Lake Maracaibo. Mangrove logging and destruction, drainage of soils and flood control projects threaten the food base of manatees in the Monagas state and Orinoco delta (Moldolfi 1974, O'Shea et al. 1988). Manatees are susceptible to noises produced by motorboat traffic, illegal use of explosives, seismic prospection and oil exploitation (Ojeda et al. 1993 unpubl. report). The projected construction of a port for large cargo ships in Golfo de Pária will detrimentally affect one of the most pristine areas in Venezuela, which harbors important populations of manatees (e.g. caños La Brea, Deri, Guariquen, La Laguna) (Ojeda C. et al. 1993 unpubl. report).
Socio-economic significance of the species to local communities
Manatee has been widely used in Venezuela mainly as a source of food (said to taste like beef, pork and fish), but various products have been attributed medicinal properties. Nowadays they are actively hunted only by the Warao and some Creoles. Manatees have also played an important role in the folklore of indigenous peoples like the Warauno (who call them joninaba and aira), Piaroa, and tribes from the Amazonas Territory. On the basin of the Orinoco and Apure rivers, earbones are prized as good luck charms. Locality names such as Lago Manati, Picacho Manati and Caño Manati attest to the previous greater abundance and perhaps importance of manatees in local life (O'Shea et al. 1988, Ojeda et al. 1993 unp. report).
National legislation and conservation measures
The Venezuelan Constitution and a number of laws are committed to the defense and conservation and natural resources (Ojeda et al. 1993 unpubl. report). Hunting is illegal and manatees are totally protected under wildlife legislation Ley de Protección a la Fauna Silvestre of 1970 (articles 11 and 17), Resolución MARNR no. 127 of 1978, and Resolución MARNR no. 95 of 1979 (O'Shea et al. 1988, Ojeda et al. 1993 unpubl. report) but, as in other Latin American countries, enforcement is lacking. Venezuela has ratified CITES since 1992 and is signatary to the SPAW Protocol. Four national parks encompassing manatee habitat have been declared: Parque Nacional Ciénagas del Catatumbo, in the state of Zulia; Parque Nacional Mariusa in the state of Delta Amacuro; Parque Nacional Santos Luzardo, in the state of Apure; and Parque Nacional Turuepano, in the state of Sucre as well as one refuge, the Cienaga de los Olivitos and a reserve, the Cienaga de Juan Manuel de Aguas Blancas y Aguas Negras Wildlife Reserve, both of them in the state of Zulia. Caño La Brea and Morichal largo are being considered as future wildlife reserves or national protected areas (ANAPRO) (Ojeda et al. 1993 unpubl. report).
A number of governmental and non-governmental organizations are involved in research, conservation, and education projects, such as Fundación Vuelta Larga and Project Mermaid in the state of Sucre and Grupo Carun in Monaguas (Ojeda et al. 1993 unpubl. report, L. Ward 1993 in litt.), PROFAUNA in the state of Zulia (Ojeda et al. 1993 unpubl. report), and Fundación Ecológica Donã Barbara in the area of the llanos, (F. J. Estrada C. in litt.). Educational programmes developed in the past decade by conservation organizations have been instrumental in reducing the level of illegal hunting (O'Shea et al. 1988). The Caribbean Stranding Network, Save the Manatee Club (in Florida) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are supporting baseline studies of semi-captive manatees both in Venezuela and Colombia, and so far have provided for the rescue and rehabilitation of over 20 manatees (Mignucci 1992). In September 1992, la Fundación para el Desarrollo de las Ciencias Físicas, Matemáticas y Naturales (FUDECI) organized a symposium (Simposio Internacional sobre Delfines y otros Mamíferos Acuáticos de Venezuela) where research and conservation aspects of manatees were discussed. A management plan for the harvest and protection of mangroves in Monagas state has been designed by the Ministerio del Ambiente y Recursos Naturales Renovables (MARNR) (O'Shea et al. 1988). During the last quarter of l993, a Manatee Group was formed under the co-ordination of PROFAUNA (the Venezuelan fish and wildlife service), comprising several NGO's, one university, two zoos (with captive animals), as well as two other government agencies (INPARQUES and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
Belize | Colombia | Costa Rica | Cuba | Dominican Republic | French Guiana (France) | Guatemala | Guyana | Haiti | Honduras | Jamaica | Mexico | Nicaragua | Panama | Puerto Rico (USA) | Suriname | Trinidad & Tobago | United States | Venezuela
Top of Page
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