Forget about Free Willie – the new cool movement is Free Juliana and Free Victoria. Juliana, Victoria and three other endangered Amazonian Manatees were released back into the wilds of Peru recently after three years of rehabilitation. The release, undertaken by the Centro de Rescate Amazónico, was the first to ever take place in the country and is part of an effort to keep the species from going extinct.
Though their population is dwindling, manatees are still often hunted for meat and oil, and Juliana and Victoria were headed down that path after being put up for sale by their owners. Luckily Centro de Rescate Amazónico (made of NGO Acobia-DWAZoo, local government and the Dallas World Aquarium) came in to save the animals, spending the past few years nursing them back to health via lactose-free milk. Late last month the five manatees were released into the freshwater of the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. The Amazonian Manatee lives in the freshwaters of the Amazonian basin, which contains 20% of the world’s fresh water supply. The mammals can be spotted in not just Peru, but also Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, Guyana and Venezuela.
However, rescuing and releasing five manatees back into the wild is not enough to keep the species alive, as long as they are still valued for oil or meat. That’s why the Centro de Rescate Amazónico is not just concerned with rescuing manatees, they also spend a great deal of timing teaching the natives the importance of the mammals. The centre, located in Iquitos, Peru is open for visitors to educate themselves on Amazonian Manatees and even bottle-feed them at meal time.