Born August 6th, 2014, female Manatee calf ‘Canola’ is the offspring of Wildlife Reserves Singapore’s largest Manatee, 23-year-old ‘Eva’. For unknown reasons, Eva abandoned her latest calf, despite having successfully raised eight offspring in the past and being a grandmother of two.
To ensure that animals in River Safari retain their parental behaviors, zoologists strive to have the parents raise their offspring. In the case of Canola, there was no other option but to have aquarists hand-raise the newborn.
The 33kg (73 lb) abandoned calf, at River Safari’s Amazon Flooded Forest exhibit, had to be watched 24 hours for the first few days, fed every two to three hours during the first three months, and re-introduced gradually to her family. It was a Herculean task that the team of aquarists dived into to give baby Canola a fighting chance to live.
Mr. Wah Yap Hon, Curator at River Safari, said, “Hand-raised animals tend to imprint on their human caregivers. The babies will attach themselves to, and learn certain behaviors from their human foster parents, and may not have a chance to bond with their family or other members of their species. In the case of Eva and Canola, we stepped in as a last resort to ensure the survival of this precious baby.”
Similar to caring for a human baby, hand-raising an animal baby requires planning and hard work. For Canola, it involved bottle-feeding every two to three hours, from 8am to 10pm daily, for the first three months. To increase her fat intake and substitute her mother’s highly nutritious milk, Canola was given a special milk formula infused with canola oil, which inspired her name. To ensure Canola’s safety, the aquarists moved her to a shallow holding pool, to minimize the risk of other manatees crowding her and making it challenging for her to rise to the water’s surface to breathe.
“Under the doting care and great team effort of her human caregivers, Canola steadily gained weight and hit all the important developmental milestones of a healthy calf. By December, Canola started swimming with the rest of the herd in the main aquarium, forming close bonds with her species,” said Wah.
Since February, Canola’s caregivers have gradually cut down on her milk intake to four feedings a day, to accommodate her increasing diet of vegetables. Manatees spend six to eight hours a day grazing on aquatic plants, which is why they are also known as ‘sea cows’. Adults typically consume 50-100kg 110lb to 220lb) of vegetation a day, equivalent to 10-15 percent of their body weight.