Story and photos by John Lamkin
Manatees are considered an endangered species. This one, Daniel or Dani, lives near Chetumal in a water corral in a small fresh water lagoon, Laguna Guerrero, in the Southern Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Manatees are sea mammals-sometimes called "sea cows."
His home has an open door, but he doesn’t want to leave. He’ll take a cruise around the lagoon, but there’s no place like home. Not too bad since he has free food--25 to 30 kilos (about 44 to 66 pounds) of vegetables every day)--compliments of the state government.
Dani was found by a couple of boys, four days old with an injured flipper--caught in the mangrove roots. He was left an orphan, unable to leave this annual birthing lagoon with the other manatees. The villagers took him to Chetumal, the state capital, to have his wounds treated. Once treated the state wildlife department decided to return him to the lagoon and put him in the care of the village until he fully recuperated. Well enough to swim, Dani was released to return to his manatee family, but he didn’t want to go.
He has a good life now that the government decided to protect and feed him. A human family cares for him, he has all the food he wants and he has a girlfriend. “She is an older ‘woman’,” Baladio, his keeper, says in Spanish, “but she is only interested in being a friend and not in his adolescent advances.”
“The village has fiestas to celebrate his birthdays,” Baladio relates, “Manatees live to be around sixty years old.” So it looks like Dani has a long and cozy life ahead of him. This youngster is a little over six feet “tall” now, but will mature to about nine feet.
With permission from Baladio, I climbed down to a platform just above the brownish, somewhat murky waters of the lagoon to feed Dani. His favorite is lettuce and he easily consumed about five heads while hundreds of tiny fish swam around him vying for the leftovers. He very gently took the lettuce from my hand with his large rhinoceros-like lips. Manatees don’t have front teeth, just molars in the back.
You can visit Dani’s home in Laguna Guerrero, twenty minutes outside of Chetumal, Quintana Roo and see, feed and make friends with him from 9AM until 5PM, Tuesday through Sunday. His keeper will accept donations to help with the young manatee's care.
The number of manatees has dwindled over the years, but they are now protected by the Mexican government. The children in the state schools are being taught about the manatee and its value to nature. Making friends with Dani will open one to a new understanding and respect for this other species.
IF YOU GO TO THE AREA
Adventure in Quintana Roo http://visitmexico.com/en_us/VisitMexico30/Adventure_In_Quintana_Roo
Mexican Caribbean http://www.mexicancaribbean.com/
WHERE TO STAY
Rancho Encantado http://www.encantado.com/en-us/
Casa Estrella de Bacalar http://casabacalar.com