Trichechus senegalensis

Picture: Henry Fairfield

Introduction to African Manatee

The African Manatee can be up to 14 feet long. They tend to be on the smaller side of the scale though when it comes to weight, around 750 to 790 pounds. When you consider other species of the manatee that weigh as much as 1,200 pounds then that is a significant difference.

African Manatee Description

The body of this species of manatee is very large and round. It starts to narrow towards the back as it becomes the paddle shaped tail. They are grain in color and have more hair than the other species. They may appear to be brown or green in color at times though due to the amount of algae that is found in their natural habitat. They also have some markings of brown or gray on the abdomen.

Class Mammalia
Order Sirenia
Family Trichechidae
Genus Trichechus
Conservation Status Vulnerable

The only teeth that this species has are molars. They use them to grind up the food that they consume so that they can swallow it. They have a split lip that allows them to pick up food and they also use the nails on their flippers to assist with this process. They have wide eyes and a short, round snout.

African Manatee Distribution

The African Manatee is mainly found around the Western part of Africa. This range extends between Angola and Senegal. They are also found living around the Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia. They are migrational and they will move based on the availability of food and the temperature of the water. If it is too cold their body can’t handle the stress so they have to move to a warmer location.

There are all types of water that they live in too including murky brown water and clear rivers. They also live in salt water regions, but this is not very common. They tend to stick to the shallow areas regardless of the type of water they stay in. This diversity may be part of the key to their survival through evolution for millions of years. They are more diverse in terms of the types of water they can survive in than the other species of manatees. However, they do need frequent access to freshwater for drinking.

African Manatee Behavior

There is plenty still unknown about the behaviors of the African Manatee. However, most experts agree that they are very similar to the other species of manatee in this regard. They move very slowly in the water, at a rate of about 3 to 5 miles per hour. They are very social and will spend a great deal of time bonding. This occurs through touch, through verbal communication, and through smells.

They haven’t been widely explored though so a great deal of what information we have about them stems from captivity settings as well as from correlation with other species. They live in small groups that often don’t have more than 6 members. The bonds that they create with each other are very deep. They may move into larger groups as they migrate and go look for food or warmer water. The complexities of such larger groups are a mystery in many ways to researchers, but they seem to work quite well for the African Manatee.

African Manatee Feeding

Even though all manatees are classified as herbivores, this species has a more diverse diet. The majority of it does come from various forms of vegetation. However, they are also known to consume clams, small fish from nets, and mollusks. They also find large amounts of their vegetation from trees and plants that hang over the water instead of being submerged in the water. They use their flippers to help them pull it down as the ends of them have nails. As a result, their diet is more diversified than other species of manatee. They spend many hours per day searching for food and eating it.

African Manatee Reproduction

Mating can start around the age of 3 for the females and closer to 10 for the males. The females will generally have one calf every 3 to 5 years. The females will go into estrus and that attracts the males. She will mate with several males during that period of time. It will take about 1 year for the single calf to be born, twins occur very rarely.  It will instinctively know how to swim to the surface to get air. They are typically born tail first.

The bond that develops between the mother and her calf is very strong and something that experts are in awe of. The young are weaned from 12 to 18 months of age but they will remain with their mother until they are about 2 years of age. This results in a slow rate of reproduction and that can be a significant factor when you are talking about efforts to increase their overall population.


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