Rameses is an Antillean manatee - an endangered sub-species of the West Indian manatee. He is part of an estimated 800 to 1,000 of these gentle mammals that live in Belize, a stronghold for this species. Rameses arrived at Wildtracks on July 19th, 2013 as a ten month old calf, weighing 110lbs. He was rescued by the Manatee Stranding Network, led by Jamal Galves, from a canal in the Belize City area, where he had been found floating on the surface, with a collapsed lung and deep, open propeller wounds on his back, inflicted by a passing boat. For the first weeks in rehabilitation, he was unable to dive under the water surface - though bobbing around on the surface didn't restrict his appetite in any way. As he started to recover, he happily consumed three to four buckets of seagrass a day, as well as water hyacinths, mangrove propagules and algae growing in the lagoon enclosure. 

Above: Ramses on entry…propeller scars tell us part of Ramses story before he was rescued and came into Wildtracks. With a collapsed lung and air leaking into his lung cavity, he was unable to dive, and would bob on top of the water.

Below: Rameses at 420lbs and ready for release.

Two veterinary procedures later, and his lung healed and he was able to start diving once more, living life as any healthy young male manatee might do. He put on size and weight, and in February, 2015, weighing in at 420lbs, he was moving and behaving as would be expected from a normal, healthy manatee. He was assessed as fit for soft release, and eventual release, and fitted with a satellite tag that would allow us to monitor his movements, locate him and intervene if necessary. With help from Save the Manatee Club and Lynda Green (thank you!), Twiggy’s old satellite transmitter was refurbished and fitted with new batteries, and the annual satellite fee renewed – and, in recognition of the support, a Save the Manatee Club sticker attached! 

Following issues arising from the structure of the previous belt and tether system used for attaching the satellite/VHF tag to both Twiggy and Tiny (two previous rehabilitated and released manatees), the decision was made to investigate other belt and tether options for Rameses. After discussions with a number of manatee rehabilitation facilities in the US and elsewhere, we approached Centro de Conservaci√≥n de Manaties de Puerto Rico for their input – and would like to take this opportunity to recognise their assistance in providing both the belt and tag unit for Rameses, and to thank Tony Mignucci, in particular, for all his help and advice.

Soft release provides the link between rehabilitation and being back in the wild. In an enclosed lagoon, with limited access to the sea, manatees in soft release build on the life skills they learnt in their lagoon enclosure. They learn how to map out their environment – seagrass patches, algae, mangroves, sun, shade, deep and shallow water. They learn how to become self-sufficient, supporting themselves on naturally growing seagrass. They learn how to shelter from rough weather – strong winds and rough waters. This is an important step in their preparation for release.

Unlike the majority of the manatees that come in to the Rehabilitation Centre (generally as young calves less than 5 months old and sometimes no more than a few days), Rameses already had a good working knowledge of being a wild manatee, having lived for the first ten months with his mother – learning the location of foraging areas, water sources and growing in the company of other manatees. As a result, his soft release preparation time was not going to need to be as long as other calves – he would only need a “refresher course” on living in the wild.

Rameses was caught by the Wildtracks Team, and his belt and tag attached. The gate was opened, and he then moved into soft release...another important step forward in his recovery, towards his final return to the wild.
Left: Tracking Rameses: Wildtracks recognizes the importance of building partnerships and learning from others. For Rameses, the release support network includes two major partners РSave the Manatee Club, who have covered the satellite tag refurbishment costs and the one year tracking fee, and Centro de Conservación de Manaties de Puerto Rico for the provision of advice, the belt and tether.

During the first week, Rameses was only let out into the lagoon during the day, then encouraged back into the enclosure at night. He picked up the location of seagrass beds quickly, and started to develop a routine, leaving the enclosure when the gate was opened in the morning, moving from seagrass patch to seagrass patch during the day, then returning to the enclosure in the evening for a final feed. The daily tracking data is posted on the Wildtracks website (though in retrospect, to avoid location and harassment of the released animal). This interactive map allows you to view tracking data for Rameses on a Google Earth satellite background. The calendar can be used to pick which day's data you wish to view, and you can zoom in and out and pan around the map to investigate the track log in more detail. Small yellow dots represent points at which a GPS fix was obtained by Rameses’ tracking tag. The larger yellow circle shows the most recent fix obtained on the day illustrated on the map – usually midnight. Clicking on any individual data point will reveal the approximate time and coordinates of the fix. Times are in local Belize time.

The daily tracking data is posted on the Wildtracks website. Soft release area is highlighted in yellow. Follow Rameses on-line:

Tracking Rameses: Starting soft release…in the early stages of soft release, Rameses is taken out by carers to the seagrass beds, building his mental map of the resources of the soft release area. In the evening, he returns to the lagoon enclosure, and the gate is closed.

Before long, Rameses was leaving the carers to scout out his preferred grazing areas on his own, and his support crew was withdrawn. Tracking then became primarily by satellite. Routine (and the bribe of a banana milkshake) brought him back in each evening, and the enclosure gate would be closed until the next morning.

During the soft release and release phases for Twiggy, in 2013, we noticed that once the enclosure door was open full time, she would also go out to graze at night – generally between 11:00 and 4:00 – then return to the enclosure for food first thing in the morning. We were interested to see if Rameses would show a similar pattern, once he had night access to the lagoon. 24 hour access started on the 25th March. Sure enough, the satellite tracking showed that he did indeed leave the lagoon enclosure area during the night, heading out to his favoured grazing areas at between 9:00pm and 10:00pm, and returning to the enclosure at 6:00am the next morning. Whilst initially grazing close to the mangroves, he gradually extended his grazing area to include the whole lagoon, eventually reaching the far coastal strand. His consumption of supplied greens in his enclosure trailed off to virtually zero, and he became self-supporting.

Above Left: 25th March, 2015…and the first night the enclosure gate remained open. He did indeed come out at night to graze along the mangrove-lined lagoon edge, then venturing to his grazing areas further east.
Above Right: 26th March, 2015… he grazed between 10:45pm and 4:15am, but by 6:00am, he was back in the enclosure, ready for his morning water hyacinths.

Soft release has gone really well, but however successful, there are always new things to learn and things that can be improved. As the data starts rolling in, we look at how we can improve our protocols for the next release. One way is to look at areas of high use outside of the waters immediately in front of Wildtracks, and investigate the resources that attract Rameses. With the assistance of Adam Lloyd, of Spatial Data Solutions, we now have mapping of frequency of use for the soft release on which to base
the resource assessment, to enable comparison of areas of high use with those of low use or only travel. Is it seagrass that drives his choice? Benthic algae? Freshwater upwellings? These results can be compared with those from Twiggy’s release – do they favour the same areas? The same activity times? How can we integrate this into the release protocols? What can we improve?

Right: Frequency mapping based on satellite information showing areas of high frequency of visitation (red) to low visitation (blue).

Occasionally, wild manatees enter the soft release lagoon – a number of young calves have been observed sheltering here during stormy weather, and most recently, two sub-adults were observed inside the lagoon, near the creek that flows out to the sea. Approximately two months after soft release, on the 9th April, and based on the tracking data, Rameses is thought to have encountered wild manatees in the lagoon, and followed them out to the coast, entering Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary and starting his release back into the wild….

Right: On 9th April, 2015, Rameses activity pattern changed from his normal foraging / grazing to travelling (long stretches of faster, more direct movement)… and he traveled straight out of the lagoon system through the access creek, into Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. He moved southwards towards the known northern-most manatee congregation area on the East Coast, swimming around the shallow spit and Shipstern Caye, to overnight in Shipstern Creek.


Save the Manatee Club

Centro de Conservacion de Manaties de Puerto Rico

Belize Forest Department

Adam Lloyd, of Spatial Data Solutions

We can only succeed in rehabilitating and returning manatees such as Rameses to the coastal waters of Belize because of your support!!


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