The Manatee care team at Royal Burgers’ Zoo in the Netherlands was in suspense for weeks awaiting the birth of a baby West Indian Manatee. Then, early in the morning of March 19, the waiting was over: a healthy baby was born.
At about five-and-a-half years old, the new mom is a first-time mother. Due to her inexperience, the care team is paying extra attention to how she tends to her newborn. So far, she appears to be caring for her baby properly. Manatees are mammals, and like all mammals, mothers provide milk for their young. Female Manatees’ nipples are located in the “armpits” just under the front flippers. The care team has seen the baby nursing regularly.
Burgers’ Zoo is the only zoo in the Netherlands to house Manatees.
Manatees are pregnant for about 12-14 months. There are a few outward signs when the female nears the end of her pregnancy, but these can last for weeks and are quite variable. Conducting an ultrasound on a marine mammal like a Manatee (which can weigh more than 1,000 pounds) is not practical. The care team knew they simply had to be vigilant and patient while awaiting the birth.
The newborn’s gender has not been confirmed, but the care team suspects it is a male. Manate calves nurse for up to two years, but they will nibble on solid foods, such as leafy vegetables, when they are just a few weeks old. In the wild, Manatees feed on plants, such as sea grasses, that grow in freshwater and saltwater environments.
Native to the Caribbean Sea and the eastern coastlines of North and South America, West Indian Manatees are listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Just 50 years ago, there were only a few hundred Manatees remaining. Collisions with boats were a frequent cause of harm to Manatees. Today, Manatee populations have recovered and there are more than 6,000 individuals