The Amazonian Manatee (Trichechus inunguis) is a freshwater species of manatee which inhabits the Amazon basin. Its habitat includes Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana and Venezuela. A must-see before or after taking any Amazon River cruise into the Pacaya-Samiria National Park, or surrounding area, is the Amazonian Manatee Rescue Center. The center is located approximately twenty minutes from the center of Iquitos, at Kilometer 4.5 of the main highway. The center’s main focus is in caring for and releasing young manatees back into their natural habitat, often in Pacaya-Samiria, where they stand the best chance of survival, thanks to the park’s remoteness and protected status.
Young manatees are orphaned when their mothers are accidentally killed by boat traffic, or intentionally killed by hunters for meat (more often the latter). The young calves are either brought directly to the center by concerned individuals, or delivered by Peruvian authorities, if confiscated from someone attempting to sell illegally. Unfortunately, some locals think that selling a pet manatee would turn a fast buck, which is why it is so important never to purchase wildlife from markets or street vendors, even if your intention is to help. By purchasing these animals, we are only encouraging the seller to go out and kill another mother. Travelers that are approached by anyone attempting to sell protected wildlife should inform the local authorities.
At the center, visitors will receive a brief introduction to the project, and characteristics of the species. Following this, visitors will have the opportunity to bottle-feed the young manatees, and believe us when we say that this is quite the moving experience. It is hard to describe the sensation, but you make an immediate connection with these immensely charismatic creatures. During the feeding you will have the opportunity to caress their skin which is soft as silk. It is heartbreaking to know what these beautiful animals have been put through, but at the same time encouraging to see such enthusiastic, energetic, and concerned local and international volunteers working for their conservation.
Because Amazonian Manatees are very difficult to see in their natural habitat, this is often the only way to observe and interact with them, making this an important stop before boarding your Amazon cruise boat. Please note that some Amazon cruises include a visit to the Center as part of their itinerary.
The center does not charge an entrance fee, but it is encouraged to pitch-in to help cover the costs associated with importing specially designed 'manatee milk' from a similar center in Florida.
Aside from caring for and reintroducing Amazonian Manatees to the wild, the center is part of a broader effort by local authorities to educate the local population on sustainable alternatives to hunting these noble creatures. Changing the way a culture has lived for centuries takes time, but based on the fire we saw in the eyes of the young volunteers, it is only a matter of time before this compassion and hope is brought to the local communities where real change will take place.
For all travelers wishing to tour the Amazon, Rainforest Cruises encourages a day in Iquitos before embarking on your Amazon River cruise, in order to get to know the city and its attractions. When you visit the Amazon Manatee Rescue Center, and places like it, you deepen your understanding of the threats facing the Amazon … and the people fighting to preserve its unique flora and fauna.