Manatees Sent to Caribbean in Repopulation Effort

The world's first attempt to reintroduce the animals into an area where they went extinct gets underway on the island of Guadeloupe.

Singapore's zoo said Monday it will send two manatees to Guadeloupe as part of the world's first repopulation program for the animal, which became extinct on the French Caribbean island in the early 20th century.

Males Kai, seven, and Junior, six, will be the first manatees -- which are also known as sea cows -- on the island since the species died out.

Another 13 manatees of both genders from zoos around the world will follow the pair to the Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin, a 15,000 hectare (37,000 acre) protected bay, the Asian city-state's zoo operator said.

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Any offspring from the group will be reintroduced into the wild as part of the repopulation program.

The species is listed as "vulnerable" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species, with the West Indian variety becoming extinct in the Caribbean due to overhunting.

During the 30-hour journey, the mammals, from the River Safari park next to Singapore's main zoo, will be placed on canvases in custom-built open-top crates lined with thick sponge and periodically sprayed with water to keep their skin moist.

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"We have been very successful in breeding manatees in our care for the past 20 years. We are very happy that this success will now contribute to restocking part of the species' historic range in the Caribbean where it has been extinct for the past century," Cheng Wen-Haur, deputy chief executive of zoo operator Wildlife Reserves Singapore, said in a statement.

A gentle creature which can grow to up to 4.5 meters (15 feet) in length, the manatee's natural habitats are warm coastal waters, mangrove swamps and estuaries where they graze on plants.

VIEW PHOTOS: Make Way for Manatees Month

November is Manatee Awareness Month, proclaimed so each year by the state of Florida, whose waters are a winter home to the state's official marine mammal. Florida and the manatee go hand in hand. In November, manatees start returning to the warmer water refuges in the state. They're a subtropical species, and they can't handle exposure of any duration to water temperatures below 68 degrees F. In honor of the month of the manatee, let's take a look at pictures of the slow-swimming mammal in action.

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Also known as a "seacow," the manatee is an air-breathing herbivore that's listed as a federally endangered species.

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Here the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is visited by several marine mammal species, including the endangered West Indian manatee (

Trichechus manatus


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There are many seasonal manatee zones in Florida that go into effect beginning in early November. Boaters are asked to pay close attention to posted signs indicating they should slow down in such waters.

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When a manatee calf is born, the mother nurses it for about one to two years. The bond between mom and calf is strong during the nursing phase. The mother teaches the calf how to find food and warm water and how to locate migration routes.

Manatees are slow swimmers because they have no natural predators and they're herbivores. They don't have much evolutionary need to swim fast when chasing prey or being chased by predators.

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The typical adult manatee is just under 10 feet long and weighs between 800 and 1,200 pounds.

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A mom and baby manatee swim in a canal in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Manatees feed on various submerged, emergent, and floating plants. Key feeding areas for them include seagrass beds and freshwater, submerged aquatic vegetation.

The federal Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 are the manatee's key pieces of protective legislation. The Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978, meanwhile, gives added protection to the creature in that state.