Friday, August 12, 2016

River Safari's Kai and Junior Take Flight for Landmark Manatee Conservation Programme

Manatee duo and best of friends set off early morning on 8 August
on a 34-hour chartered flight to Guadeloupe; Entourage includes two vets and an aquarist.

River Safari Singapore’s team of aquarists, keepers and vets coaxing Junior into the canvas stretcher, for transfer into the travelling crate. Junior and his bestfriend Kai are bound for Guadeloupe as pioneer manatees for the world’s first manatee repopulation programme spearheaded by the National Park of Guadeloupe. 

River Safari Singapore’s Kai and Junior have set off on their historic journey to become the first two manatees in over a century to arrive in Guadeloupe as pioneers for the world’s first manatee repopulation programme. The pair departed Singapore at 4.50am last August 8.

At a farewell ceremony on Sunday, Mr. Mike Barclay, Group CEO of Mandai Park Holdings presented a special flight comfort kit consisting of the manatees’ favourite treats—high fibre pellets—to Mrs. Laurence Beau, Deputy Head of Mission from the Embassy of France in Singapore, symbolically signifying the handing over of River Safari’s two male manatees to Guadeloupe, a French territory in the Caribbean. 

Jayce Chua, Assistant Curator, River Safari Singapore, making a final check on Kai before he and Junior are loaded onto the chartered freighter aircraft for the 19,600km journey to Guadeloupe which will take 34 hours. Kai and Junior will be the first of 15 manatees globally to arrive for the world’s first manatee repopulation programme in the creatures’ historic range in the Caribbean, where the species have not been sighted in over a century.

The journey to Guadeloupe took 34 hours, and Kai and Junior traveled 19,600km across the globe before finally arriving last 9 August 2016, at 1:30am local time. 

Under the Antillean manatee repopulation project spearheaded by the National Park of Guadeloupe, 15 manatees from zoos around the world will be sent to their historic home in the Grand Cul-de-sac Marin, a protected bay which measures 15,000 hectares and will shield the manatee collection from boating traffic by way of an enforced no-entry zone. In addition to age and temperament considerations, genetic diversity is also key in the selection of the founding group. The future offspring from the initial 15 manatees will be reintroduced to the wild, eventually repopulating the Caribbean region. Kai and Junior from River Safari will be the first arrivals for the landmark project. 

Mr Mike Barclay, Group CEO, Mandai Park Holdings, said, “As operators of four world-class wildlife parks – Jurong Bird Park, Night Safari, River Safari, and Singapore Zoo – we are committed to offering the best possible care to the animals under our charge. Aside from maintaining a healthy living collection to educate and inspire an appreciation for wildlife among our park guests, we are also committed to breeding assurance populations for threatened species and, where possible, reintroducing them back into the wild. We are happy to have the opportunity to contribute towards repopulating part of the manatees’ historic range in the Caribbean, where they have not been sighted in over a century. Projects like this allow us to do our bit to protect and conserve the world’s biodiversity.” 

In the last 20 years, more than 10 manatees were bred under human care in River Safari and Singapore Zoo. Among them, Kai and Junior have been selected for the repopulation programme in Guadeloupe as they have reached sexual maturity, and are best pals inside the aquarium. Their relative young age also makes it easier for the pair to adapt to a new environment. Kai was born on 8 October 2009 and Junior was born on 2 February 2010. 

ABOVE: The breeding grounds for the 15 manatees, aptly shaped in the form of a manatee, in Guadeloupe. PHOTO CREDIT: NATIONAL PARK OF GUADELOUPE 

Due to Kai and Junior’s massive weight, River Safari’s team of aquarists, keepers, and vets took extra care as they placed the pair into travelling crates for transportation. These crates are lined with thick sponge to ensure that Kai and Junior remain comfortable throughout the journey, and also to absorb water which has to be periodically sprayed on the manatees to keep their skin moist. As an added measure for the manatees’ comfort, the National Park of Guadeloupe and River Safari opted for a chartered flight for Kai and Junior to minimise travel time. 

Two veterinarians from the National Park of Guadeloupe and River Safari’s Deputy Head Aquarist, Keith So, are accompanying Kai and Junior throughout the 34-hour journey. Kai and Junior’s favourite aquarist at River Safari, Doris Su, will depart for Guadeloupe on a separate passenger flight this evening, to help ensure they settle down well in their new environment. 

Manatees are currently listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Their numbers have declined in the last century due to hunting pressures, entrapment in commercial nets, and collisions with propellers and motorboats.


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