The Manatee Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release Program: Contributions Towards Recovery of an Endangered Species
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Jacksonville, FL, USA
The West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus) is listed as an endangered species throughout its range. This species is protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. The Manatee Rescue, Rehabilitation, and Release Program (Rehab Program) was established in 1973 to assist injured and distressed manatees. To date, the Rehab Program has rescued over 820 manatees and released more than 390 individuals after successful medical treatment in a rehabilitation facility.1 Defined objectives and priority actions have served to direct the Rehab Program. Release criteria were first developed in 1992 by the Rehab Program partners to help select the appropriate candidates for release and provide tools for post-release monitoring of individuals; this included satellite monitored radio telemetry equipment. Since that time, data have provided guidance for the Rehab Program and these criteria have undergone several modifications as our understanding of manatee biology, medicine and adaptability continued to progress. Since its inception, the Rehab Program has radio tagged more than 100 captive released manatees in an effort determine survival rates. Within recent years, a Manatee Rehabilitation Partnership was created to monitor those individuals considered "higher risk". Post-release monitoring has greatly advanced our understanding of the ability of manatees to adapt to various conditions in the wild, improved our understanding of manatee health and treatment protocols, and provided a framework to analyze the success of releases through the program's diligent efforts. Results from preliminary data gathered from radio tagged manatees estimate survival rates of 88.1% (95% CI 79.9%-96.4%) for those individuals brought into captivity and subsequently released; most of these animals would have died without medical intervention and proper rehabilitative care.2 Data analysis is currently underway to determine the impact of the efforts of the Rehab Program on overall manatee recovery; preliminary results suggest that the Rehab Program may decrease quasi-extinction rates.2 The Rehab Program continues to augment the wild population; the success of these efforts has been based on committed individuals, the longevity of the program and the robust enthusiasm of our partnerships.
I would like to thank all the partners within the Manatee Rescue, Rehabilitation & Release Program, especially all the field biologists that collected all the data on tagged released manatees (the US Geological Survey, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the Manatee Rehabilitation Partnership) and the facilities which currently hold captive manatees (The Caribbean Stranding Network, The Cincinnati Zoo, The Columbus Zoo, Disney's The Seas, The Lowry Park Zoo, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, The Miami Seaquarium, Mote Marine Laboratory, SeaWorld Orlando, SeaWorld San Diego, and South Florida Parker Museum and Aquarium).
1. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2006. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Manatee Database.
2. Sanders-Reed C. 2007. Pers. Comm.