The 5.5-year-old pregnant Caribbean manatee kept the Arnhem zookeepers and biologists in suspense for weeks, but in the early hours of Tuesday 19 March, the wait was over, and a healthy-looking manatee calf was born, most likely a male. The relatively young female is a first-time mother so the coming period will remain exciting for the zookeepers and biologists. Burgers’ Zoo is the only zoo in the Netherlands to home manatees.
Living with uncertainty
Caribbean manatees have a gestation period between 12 and 14 months. The pregnant female showed noticeable swelling around her vulva and had visibly swollen nipples for quite some weeks. Performing an ultrasound on an aquatic mammal of this size is incredibly impractical, and the unnecessary stress it would cause is undesirable. All the zookeepers and biologists could do was keep a close eye on the animal and be patient.
The excitement is not over yet
On Tuesday 19 March at 7.30 a.m., zookeepers discovered the manatee calf, which is probably a male. Male manatees have no external genital organs, and the gender of a manatee can only be distinguished by the location of the genital opening in relation to the anus. In females the opening is closer to the anus and in males the opening is more towards the middle of the abdomen and the umbilical cord. At first sight, it looks to be in good health, but as it concerns a first-time mother, the coming period will remain exciting for the zookeepers and biologists.
Normal behaviour when suckling
A manatee calf drinks from one of two of its mother’s nipples, located in the armpits behind the flippers. Normally the mother floats horizontally, and the calf swims toward the nipple. The only assistance a mother gives is keeping her flipper aside. A calf will drink from its mother for approximately two years but will often try to eat solid food as early as one or two weeks old. Usually, a young manatee will eat solid food after about forty days.