Twiggy the Manatee and calf

Twiggy the Manatee’s Inspiring Journey

In the world of animal conservation, it is all too common to feel as though we are perpetually battling against the tide of challenges and losses. Yet, amidst the challenges, there are success stories that are beacons of hope. Today, Paul Walker, Director of Wildtracks tells a heart-warming story of a manatee named Twiggy – a testament to the remarkable work of a team, dedicated to rehabilitating rescued manatees and primates and returning them to their natural habitat.

Paul tells us, “In wildlife rehabilitation, one of the gold standards of success is the survival and health of the animal one year after release back into the wild. The Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre at Wildtracks is a world leader in having a 100% post-release survival of manatees through the monitored period – over 10 years to date in some cases. Another gold standard is reproduction in the wild – with the released animal, having returned to the wild, successfully breeding. Whilst the endangered Yucatan black howler monkeys rehabilitated and released by Wildtracks have more than doubled their numbers in 12 years, with first and second generation wild-born young, this measure has been more elusive for the manatees as the females don’t become reproductive until around five to seven years old, with only one calf being born every two to five years.

Twiggy, first recued as an injured orphan in 2009, was successfully released several years ago and frequents a large coastal lagoon system about 10 miles from Wildtracks, returning for a few days every couple of months to socialize with the younger manatees in rehabilitation, or the older ones in soft release in the lagoon. Seeing her girth increasing for several months, we have frequently joked that one day she would return with a calf. That finally happened in August 2023, as shown in the video put together by one of our volunteers, Catherine Ramsay.

Twiggy has become our first confirmed case of a manatee rehabilitated and released by Wildtracks, not only passing the gold standard of being alive and well after her first year in the wild, but also passing the second goal-post of successfully breeding in the wild. There are likely to have been others – but once they return to the wild they are generally not seen after the post-release monitoring ends, so the presence of calves goes un-noticed. Twiggy changed that, returning three weeks prior to the birth – apparently wanting to be back on “home turf” for the big event. She appears to be a model mother, with the calf playing boisterously close to her. They stayed at Wildtracks for a little over two weeks and are now apparently heading back to Twiggy’s regular home area further down the lagoon system. A very special event!”

Wildtracks is a non-profit organisation, based at the Manatee & Primate Rehabilitation Centre, Belize.