The Manatee: Largest Resident of the Amazon River
The life of a Peixe Boi (sea cow or Trichechus manatus in scientific language) is rather laid back. This docile and inoffensive creature spends about a third of each day feeding on various water plants growing in the deep Amazon waterways. It usually swims alone but sometimes meets with others at warm swimming holes or rich feeding grounds. Another third of the manatee’s time is spent playing and socializing and the rest is spent sleeping or relaxing near the top of the water or motionless on the bottom.
Scientists believe that manatees are intelligent animals, capable of passing information between them, such as the locations of feeding grounds or directions through complicated waterways. They also communicate in times of danger, warning others to stay away or setting up meeting locations for when the danger has passed. Because they are creatures of habit, returning frequently to the same swimming and feeding grounds, local guides are proficient at finding the creatures and bringing groups in for a look. They are especially plentiful in the Archipelago of Anavilhanas about 100 Km from Manaus and are among the most charming and delightful animals in the Amazon Region.
The Brazilian Peixe Boi looks quite different than its North American cousin. It’s much thinner for one thing, and almost completely black. Its face looks like that of a walrus with no tusks. Although slightly chubby and slow in appearance, the Peixe Boi is actually a powerful swimmer and can reach up to 25 Km per hour in the water. It uses its powerful tail for both propulsion and direction. Besides the small population of Peixe Boi in the Central and Eastern Amazon Regions, the creature can also be found in the ocean along the shores of Northern and Northeastern Brazil.
Hunted practically to extinction, the Peixe Boi is now on the Endangered Species List. Females give birth to only one cub per year and their gestation period is longer than that of a human: about 13 months. They do not have a particular mating season, so cubs are born throughout the year. They remain with their mothers for two years, when they begin to feed on the surrounding plant life. Brazil’s Projeto Peixe Boi (www.projetopeixe-boi.com.br), part of the government environmental group IBAMA, is responsible for maintaining and protecting the species and even rehabilitating young, orphaned cubs. The headquarters is located on the Island of Itamaraca, north of Recife in the state of Pernambuco (see the Recife chapter for details on visitations) and has offices and rehabilitation centers in Manaus and Belem.