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MANATEE REINTRODUCTION PROYECT:
JUANITA, PEPE & LUPITA

Photo: Ariel Contreras - Cúa Conservation Agency

Juanita, Pepe, and Lupita are the first West Indian manatees (Trichechus manatus) to have been successfully rescued, rehabilitated, released, and tracked in the Dominican Republic.

In September 2020, FUNDEMAR together with the Ministry of the Environment and the National Aquarium of the Dominican Republic began the process of reintroducing the three manatees who had previously been rescued.

STORY of Juanita, PEPE and Lupita

In August 2012, as a small calf, Juanita suffered more than 14 stab wounds when she was rescued in the Bayahibe area, on the southeast coast of the island of Hispaniola. A beach security guard found her under a pier and called the staff of FUNDEMAR and the National Aquarium. They were able to intervene and managed to save his life.

 

Just two months later, in October, a small orphaned manatee was reported in the vicinity of the Haina river dock, in the Dominican capital. This manatee was rescued by the National Aquarium. They called him Pepe.

 

Lupita was also rescued as a young orphaned manatee in 2018, this time in Luperón, on the country's north coast, by the National Aquarium.

The three were being treated at the National Aquarium in Santo Domingo. Since Juanita and Pepe were rescued at such a young age and had been in human care for over 8 years, there was concern that they might not survive in the wild. Lupita, however, was experienced in nature and was under human care for only two years. Scientists hope that Lupita will guide Juanita and Pepe as they adjust to life in nature.

LIBERATION IN BAYAHIBE

A “soft release” was conducted in Bayahibe, based on existing protocols and similar experiences in Puerto Rico, where the three manatees have been in a natural bay for a six-month adaptation period prior to release. During this period, they slowly transitioned to a seagrass diet and it was ensured that the manatees were healthy and exhibited wild behaviors in order to survive in their natural habitat.

The net that separated Juanita, Pepe and Lupita from the open sea was successfully withdrawn on June 27, 2021. The emotional event to commemorate the liberation of manatees was spearheaded by FUNDEMAR, the Ministry of the Environment and the National Aquarium, with the participation of other institutions of the Dominican government such as the National Navy, as well as donors and allies that accompanied the project.

Monitoring and protection

Trackers are the key to monitoring how manatees are adapting and will alert scientists in case there is any cause for concern or intervention.

With the support of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute (CMARI) and the German Embassy in Santo Domingo, manatees were tagged and the local lead team trained to operate the tracking equipment. CMARI scientists will continue to serve as consultants, helping FUNDEMAR to decipher when unusual movements are not a cause for concern or when an intervention is necessary for the well-being of manatees.

Outreach events for local fishermen and families led by FUNDEMAR gave the community the opportunity to become familiar with the tags used on manatees and why they are used. These events also encourage the community to report manatee sightings, as well as those that are in distress, so that the proper organization can respond appropriately and document the habitats that manatees may be using in the area.

 

Boat strikes are of great concern to manatees. In February 2021, marine signaling buoys were installed to protect manatee areas with speed limits, in coordination with the Navy, the Ministry of the Environment, the La Romana Tourism Cluster and Hotel Association along with other institutions.

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Photo: Ariel Contreras - Cúa Conservation Agency

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