On Sunday, two male West Indian manatees, Junior and Kai, found themselves on a trip halfway around the world, when the Singapore Zoo sent them on a trip of a lifetime to the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. However, this isn’t simply a joyride: their 34-hour trip kicked off the world’s first manatee repopulation programme.
According to the Wildlife Reserves Singapore, these specific manatees were chosen for a few reasons: not only are they both at peak health and sexual maturity, but they are also best friends, having known each other since they were born. The two were sent off with much fanfare – a farewell ceremony was held in their honor and was attended by representatives from the French embassy.
The manatees were delivered to the protected bay at Grand Cul-de-sac Marin, where the National Park of Guadeloupe is basing the repopulation project. The programme aims to eventually house 15 manatees from zoos around the world, and the offspring from the initiative will then be released into the wild.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources lists manatees as a “vulnerable” species on its Red List of Threatened Species. Known as the “maman d’lo” (mother of the sea) in Guadeloupe, the animal has been extinct in the island’s waters since the early 1900s due to overhunting.
Manatees can be found in warm, shallow coastal areas where they feed on mangroves, sea grass and algae; West Indian manatees normally live in the areas where freshwater and saltwater ecosystems meet.