Singapore Zoo celebrated the latest addition to its family on February 13, 2012 when one of its grand dames, Eva the 20-year-old Caribbean or West Indian Manatee, gave birth to male twins.
Unfortunately only one of her offspring survived. The other died soon after birth and was found to have a heart defect. Twin births are extremely rare for Manatees, which are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Female Manatees reach sexual maturity as young as three years, and typically give birth to a single calf every two years, after a gestation of 12 months. It takes a further 12-18 months to wean the calf. With seven children and two grandchildren to her name, Eva is truly a star. Singapore Zoo now boasts nine of these fascinating creatures, the largest collection among the world’s ISIS institutions.
The newborn has been christened Valentine, and can already be seen independently exploring the pool although calves usually do not stray from their mothers for the first one to two years of their lives. The last manatee birth was in 2010, a male named Junior that is often seen playing with his baby brother.
The manatee is a fully aquatic marine mammal that can grow up to four metres and weigh 590kg. Although resembling a cross between a hippopotamus and a seal, it is actually most closely related to the elephant. Manatees spend six to eight hours a day grazing aquatic plants, which is why they are also known as sea cows. Adults can consume 50-100kg a day (equivalent to 10-15 per cent of their body weight).
West Indian manatees like the ones in the Zoo inhabit the shallow, marshy coastal areas and rivers of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. Though bulky in size, they are able to hit up to 30 km/h in short bursts of swimming.
In the wild, manatees are particularly threatened by human activity due to dense coastal development in their habitats, which has led to the entry of propeller-driven boats and ships. These propellers can scar, maim, or even kill manatees. Those that are not killed instantly may die of infections from their wounds. Scientists however, have found that the situation can be improved when boats in the area have higher frequencies that will alert the manatees to danger and allow them to swim away. Other human-related threats include entrapment in floodgates, canal locks and fishing lines.