Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Sirenia Trichechidae

Scientific Name: Trichechus inunguis
Species Authority: (Natterer, 1883)
Common Name(s):
English Amazonian Manatee, South American Manatee
French Lamantin D'Amérique Du Sud, Lamantin De L'Amazone
Spanish Lamantino Amazónico, Manatí Amazónico, Vaca Marina
Taxonomic Notes: Genetic diversity of T. inunguis has been found to be higher than any one of the three major clusters of T. manatus (Garcia-Rodriguez et al. 1998, Vianna et al. 2002, Caballero and Giraldo 2004), possibly functioning as a panmictic population (Cantanhede et al. 2005).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A3cd ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor(s): Marmontel, M.
Reviewer(s): Reynolds III, J.E. & Powell, J.A. (Sirenia Red List Authority)
Trichechus inunguis is here listed as Vulnerable based on a suspected population decline of at least 30% within the next three generations (assuming a generation length of 20 years, based on what is known for T. manatus) due primarily to ongoing levels of hunting, sometimes involving new and sophisticated techniques, coupled with increasing incidental calf mortality, climate change and habitat loss and degradation.
Previously published Red List assessments:
2007 Vulnerable (VU)
1996 Vulnerable (VU)
1994 Vulnerable (V)
1990 Vulnerable (V)
1988 Vulnerable (V)
1986 Vulnerable (V)
1982 Vulnerable (V)
1965 Status inadequately known-survey required or data sought

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Amazonian manatees occur through most the Amazon River drainage, from the headwaters, in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru (Timm et al. 1986) to the mouth of the Amazon (close to the Marajó Island) in Brazil (Domning 1981) over an estimated seven million square kilometers. However, they are patchily distributed, concentrating in areas of nutrient-rich flooded forest, which covers around 300,000 km² (Junk 1997).
Countries occurrence:
Brazil; Colombia; Ecuador; Peru
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:Most of the waters inhabited by Amazonian manatees are very murky, and, probably as an adaptation to past and ongoing hunting pressure, Amazonian manatees are extremely secretive. Consequently, there are no reliable population estimates available, although numbers are almost certainly lower than historical figures due to centuries of hunting. Husar (1977) estimated a minimum of 10,000 manatees for the entire Amazon basin, and Best (1983) estimated 500 to 1,000 in Amanã Lake (45 x 3 km) alone in 1979, but these numbers must be regarded with caution since they are supported by very little empirical data. Analysis of feeding patches, sightings and interview surveys have been used to try to estimate population numbers (Soini 1995, Kendall et al. 2005) with limited results. Traditional mark-recapture studies are not appropriate due to the species’ secretive nature.

Whatever the current population size, the population trend is most likely decreasing, given the species’ slow reproduction (sirenian populations grow at an annual rate of approximately 5%; Marsh et al. 1984c, Packard 1985) and levels of exploitation (Marmontel et al. 1992). During extensive interviews conducted with local inhabitants throughout the range of the species, conflicting responses were obtained. In Brazil, Lazzarini and Picanço (pers. comm. 2005) were of the opinion that, due to the work by the Manaus Energia Environmental Program and other conservation actions, hunting is decreasing in the lower Uatumã river (from 23 in 1994 - and a high of 73 in 1995 - to zero in 2003 and 2004 and one in 2005). The progressive increase in the number of young calves arriving at rehabilitation centers in Brazil in the past five years, has also led several researchers to suspect that the species may be undergoing some recovery, or that the increase is simply a reflection of the awareness campaigns implemented, with a concomitant increase in the number of rescued calves (Rosas and da Silva pers. comm. 2005). Alternatively, it may also suggest that calf takes are on the rise (and see Threats).

On the other hand, manatee numbers are thought to have been decreasing in the past few years in all known areas of occurrence in Colombia. If indeed there are less than 100 manatees in the area (Kendall 2001), then the 7 to 11 animals killed/year over the period 1988-2001 would certainly lead to a reduction in the population. However, since Fundación Omacha started its work in the area of Puerto Nariño, the population in this area at least may have stabilized due to the reduction in hunting (only two individuals in the past two years) (Kendall pers. comm. 2005).

In the early 1980s, manatees were reported to be abundant in most of the lagoons and black water rivers of Ecuador’s Cuyabeno Reserve, but this population was being persecuted for meat by Peruvian and Ecuadorian militaries. Timm et al. (1986) suggested that there were 250 adult individuals in Ecuador, and that no subpopulation exceeded 50 individuals; they estimated that if the then level of harvest went on unabated, Amazonian manatees would disappear from Ecuador within 10 to 15 years. Timm et al. (1989) stated that the Siona Indians then practiced a self-imposed ban on manatee hunting because of low manatee populations. However, some of the Siona never knew about this ban, and it seems possible that hunting continued (C. Castro pers. comm. 2005). Amazonian manatees still exist in the Cuyabeno River, but likely in low numbers. In the Lagartococha system, Peruvian hunters claim to have hunted manatees until about 10 years ago; since that time, they have not seen any manatees in the area. Although the information from recent interviews is contradictory, the general consensus is that the population is decreasing.

In Peru, in an area in the Samiria river, average sightings over the 2003 to 2005 period were sufficient to suggest that were was no apparent decrease in the population, and that the population is stable, albeit at low numbers (R. Bodmer pers. comm. 2005). However, Ulloa Gomez (2004) believes that reports from hunters, a decrease in the number of manatee sightings, the absence of manatees in sites previously occupied, and results from field surveys in Pacaya Samiria, lend evidence to the hypothesis that manatee populations are declining.
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Amazonian manatees inhabit environments in lowland tropical areas below 300 m asl, where there is large production of aquatic and semi-aquatic plants; they also favor calm, shallow waters, away from human settlements.

Individuals engage in long seasonal movements, moving from flooded areas during the wet season to deep water-bodies during the dry season (Kendall 2001, M. Marmontel et al. unpubl.). While the whitewaters provide them with plentiful food, deep lakes function as refuges during the low-water season, where animals are less vulnerable to hunting.

Only one calf is produced at a time. Although no specific studies are available for the species in the wild, it is believed that the reproductive cycle is similar to the West Indian Manatee’s, with a long gestation and lactation period (up to 24 months), and a birthing interval of 2 to 3 months; age at sexual maturity is unknown.
Systems:Freshwater; Marine
Movement patterns:Full Migrant

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The major threats to the species include hunting for food, incidental capture in gill nets, and habitat degradation.

Illegal hunting, for both subsistence and local use, is considered the main threat to manatees in the Amazon. Manatee populations have supported a tremendous take in past centuries and, although not at commercial levels, hunting still takes place throughout the region. Manatee meat is highly valued, but all the other products are used as well (fat and skin are used in cooking and as medicine, bones are turned into utilitarian pieces and charms, and the skin produces very resistant leather).

Hunters usually sell products to neighbours and nearby communities, but the meat is sometimes sold in markets of local towns. There is also some traffic between cities to sell manatee products in local markets (Evangelista 2005 pers. comm.). Meat is sold in natura, or as mixira or subproducts such as sausage. The mixira, which is the meat preserved in its own fat, is one of the products that prolongs the pressure on the species, since it commands a high price. Meat is sold in local produce fairs or markets in the interior, or by order directly with the hunter. Public markets in Brazil (Manaus, Manacapuru, Novo Airão, Tefé, Silves, Itapiranga and Itacoatiara, Santarem, Belem, Monte Alegre and Almeirim), Colombia (Puerto Narino, Leticia, Atacuari) and Ecuador also illegally offer the meat for sale, with prices ranging from U$0.23 to U$1.87 (Lazzarini and Picanço pers. comm. 2005, Hage pers. comm. 2005). A 60-l can of mixira sells for approximately U$168 (Lazzarini and Picanço pers. comm. 2005). Since a large manatee could yield as much as 200 kg of meat, which could be dried or salted, this could provide some two months’ wages (Kendall 2001).

The use of traditional harpoons remains the most widespread technique for hunting manatees - corresponding to 70% to over 90% of all takes (Kendall et al. 2005, Sartor et al. in prep, M. Marmontel unpubl.). So far, fishing traps with harpoons attached have only been recorded for Peru (Reeves et al. 1996, Ulloa Gomez 2004) and on the Colombian-Peruvian border (Orozco 2001). Although illegal in both countries, between 1998 and 2003 at least 14 manatees were killed on the Peruvian side of the border; this technique accounted for 30% of intentional mortality from 1998 to 2003 in Colombia (Kendall et al. 2005). Kendall (2001) and Orozco (2001) believed this practice to be localized and becoming increasingly uncommon, although Peruvian hunters think this technique might be responsible for an increase in manatee hunting (Ulloa Gomez 2004). Fishermen will close areas where manatees are known to gather to mate, in order to harpoon them (M. Leitao pers. comm., 2005), or hit the water with sticks to disorient manatees with the noise (‘batição’) and then harpoon them in channels and lakes closed with gillnets (Lima et al. 2001).

The use of nets has been on the increase over the past few years. Kendall et al. (2005) calculated that 15% of hunting mortality in Colombia over the period 1998 to 2003 was due to netting. Netting has sometimes had large-scale impacts: in 1999, a large trawl net deployed by a freezer boat caused the death of 14 animals (Lazzarini and Picanço pers. comm. 2005) in the Purus river, while in 1998 a single net setting is said to have trapped 60 animals in Manacapuru (AM) (Lazzarini and Picanco pers. comm. 2005). Of particular concern is the development of “special” gillnets designed to catch manatees. In 1992, three cases of non-calf entangled manatees were documented in the Brazilian Amazon, while between 1999 and 2000, four adult manatees were caught in nets (Lazzarini and Picanço pers. comm. 2005). Although unclear if accidental or intentional, the large size of the adults suggests the use of strong nets built specifically for the specific purpose of catching manatees.

Take estimates are available only for a few sites where conservation and research projects are taking place. The Amazonas branch of the Brazilian environmental agency has been attempting to survey and control all manatee hunting efforts since 1995, but results are variable, primarily due to funding inconsistencies. The most complete set of data are from the lower Uatuma river (surveyed by Centro de Preservacao e Pesquisas de Mamiferos Aquaticos) and mid-Solimoes areas in Brazil (Mamiraua and Amana Sustainable Development Reserves, managed by Mamiraua Institute of Sustainable Development), and the Puerto Narino area in Colombia (under Fundacion Omacha’s research) for very limited areas (Table 1, in Supplementary Material).

See the Supplementary Material for Table 1: catch estimates for T. inunguis in Brazil and Colombia.

Very limited information is available for Ecuador (in 1996 four manatees are said to have been killed by the Siona Indians; and in 1998 eight manatees - six by the Siona and two by the Quichua; C. Castro pers. comm. 2005). Likewise, no long-term data are available for Peru either; however, during May and June 2004 alone, seven manatees were taken in only two villages from the Samiria River basin, suggesting high hunting pressure (Ulloa Gomez 2004). Between 1998 and 2003, 47 manatees were recorded hunted in the area of Puerto Nariño (Zaragoza to Atacuari) (Kendall et al. 2005). In the Puerto Nariño area, hunting has been on the decline in the past five years: with the inception of educational campaigns, numbers of culled manatees decreased from ten in 1998/1999 to four in 2003 and two in 2004 (Kendall pers. comm. 2005).

Extreme droughts may help make the manatee an easier prey item for hunters, by causing isolation and entrapment (Reeves et al. 1996, Ulloa Gomes 2004, Sartor et al. in prep., M. Marmontel pers. obs.). In 1994, an estimated 10 animals were taken from a “poço” (a deep-water site where animals concentrate during dry seasons) in Sao Sebastiao do Uatuma (Lazzarini and Picanco pers. comm. 2005); in 1995, 60 were hunted between July and September only, in a breathing hole across from the Urucara (AM) town, and one fisherman alone caught 11 manatees (Lazzarini and Picanço 2005). During the drought of 1998, multiple numbers of manatees were taken in one day in three different “poços” of the Coari town (AM) area (16 in the Poço da Freguesia; Tressoldi and Lazzarini 2000; 16 in Pixuma and 8 in Tucuma; Lazzarini and Picanco pers. comm. 2005; and 18 in Prego Community (Purus) (Lazzarini and Picanco pers. comm. 2005). In the 2005 drought, at least five were killed in the Tefe Lake across from the Tefe town (AM) and approximately 120 were taken in the Coari area, according to information gathered by the environmental agency and reported in local newspapers.

Incidental mortality, orphaned calves, and illegal captivity
With an increasing use of gillnets to hunt manatees, there has been a concomitant rise in incidental calf mortality in the past few years, and this is now a major threat to Amazonian manatees in all range countries (Rosas and da Silva pers. comm. 2005, R. Bodmer pers. comm. 2005, Utreras and Zapata 2005, Ulloa Gomez 2004). Although young animals usually end up drowning in the nets, if they do survive then they are usually kept alive for later sale, since young animals have little meat for immediate consumption (Kendall 2001, Orozco 2001).

The number of rescued calves every year has been increasing, but this number is certainly only a small sample of occurrences in the Amazon (Rosas and da Silva pers. comm. 2005). In the past five years, at least six calves became entangled in nets across channels in Colombia (S. Kendall pers. comm. 2005). Calves captured in Colombia are taken to Leticia and sometimes to Caballo Cocha, Peru (Orozco 2001). There are also reports of manatee calf commerce in the border between Brazil and Colombia (Lazzarini and Picanço pers. comm. 2005), and there were at least three cases reported of calves captured in Peru and offered for sale in Colombia between 2003 and 2005 (Kendall pers. comm. 2005).

Between 1992 and 2005, CPPMA (Centro de Preservação e Pesquisa de Mamíferos Aquáticos) received an average of four calves/year, with numbers increasing when a heavy drought was in place. Of the 41 calves rescued, 23 (56%) were caught in gillnets, but only four accidentally, while the others were caught in nets set up to catch them with the intent to sell, and even to catch on request (in five cases the mother was also caught and killed). In 13 (32%) of the orphan cases, the calves were harpooned (CPPMA, Picanço and Lazzarini, 2005, unpubl.).

Calves (wounded or not) are sometimes sold as pets (Rosas and da Silva pers. comm. 2005), kept in pools or areas close to water bodies, and sold or given to politicians, authorities, and influential persons. A boat owner on the route Belém-Santarém allegedly keeps 10 in a lake near Manaus and has paid up to US$150 for one (Sartor pers. comm. 2005). Siona and Quechua indians keep manatees as pets, but raise them for food (C. Castro pers. comm. 2005).

Habitat alteration and disturbance
Anthropogenic actions have resulted in pollution, loss, alteration and fragmentation of habitats used by the Amazonian manatee (Rosas and da Silva pers. comm. 2005, Min. Amb. and F. Omacha 2004).

Deforestation and contamination by mercury, oil or pesticides, are potential hazards to the manatee’s food supply (Rosas et al. 1991), and the construction of hydroelectric dams may isolate populations, limiting genetic variability (Rosas 1994). Brazil has planned 400 dams, 46 of them at the phase of projects, two of which are mega-enterprises in the Amazon regions (Madeira and Xingu rivers). Both gold mining and deforestation contribute to the pollution of the water system (Amorim et al. 2000, Dolbec et al. 2000). Roots of floating and rooted aquatic plants (Paspalum, Eicchornia, Salvinia) have been shown to be important methylation sites (Guimaraes et al. 2000a,b).

An important potential problem in Ecuador are oil spills (Utreras and Zapata pers. comm. 2005), the last one having occurred in Cuyabeno Lagoon 10 years ago (C. Castro pers. comm. 2005). In 2004, Petrobras (a Brazilian multinational company) was granted permission to explore oil in Yasuni National Park, which will involve considerable traffic in the Tiputini river, mainly during the building stages, but also large boat traffic during the 20-year operation (J. Proaño pers. comm. 2005). Local indigenous leaders denounce that toxic residues, such as benzene, xylene and alcatrao, are being discharged into the river as a result of prospecting activities ( 23 jan06). In some cases indigenous peoples no longer bathe in the river due to oil contamination (

Amazonian human populations are generally at low densities except in the large capital cities, but all of the issues above could be magnified by the increase in human population. In some parts of Colombia and Peru, manatee absence from areas where they were previously recorded may be partially attributed to increased boat use and town growth (Kendall 2001, Orozco 2001, Kendall et al. 2004, Ulloa Gomez 2004). The current process of placing asphalt on the BR-163 road connecting Cuiaba in Mato Grosso to Santarem in PA, is expected to bring the typical colonization fronts and economic occupation which have previously created disorderly migration, deforestation and predatory exploration of natural resources, which shall add to present threats to manatee. The main economic activity associated with that road, soy plantation, will likely cause increased levels of deforestation, siltation and pesticide runoff. Boat traffic tends to increase even in smaller towns, but the heavy traffic of barges associated with the setting up of a hydrovia for soybean transportation could impact both manatees directly and their food supply.
For further information about this species, see 22102_Trichechus_inunguis.pdf.
A PDF viewer such as Adobe Reader is required.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Listed on Appendix I of CITES. Presently there are no national management plans specific for the species, except in Colombia. Management plans exist for two protected areas (Pacaya Samiria in Peru and Mamiraua Reserve in Brazil), and two communities in Colombia (Puerto Narino and Mocagua) have informal local management agreements (Ministerio de Ambiente, Vivienda y Desarrollo Territorial and Fundación Omacha 2005). Amazonian Manatees have been recorded from two protected areas in Ecuador, two in Colombia, four in Peru and 23 in Brazil. Unfortunately, hunting continues even within protected areas.

Presently, INPA (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia) cares for 34 captive manatees including eight calves, 18 juveniles and eight adults (da Silva et al. 2006). CPPMA currently maintains 31 manatees, mostly orphans. So far, the Centro Mamiferos Marinhos-Conselho Nacional de Seringueiros facility in Alter-do-Chão (PA, Brazil) has rescued six orphans (two of which died) and a sick adult manatee (Luna 2005 pers. comm.).

Classifications [top]

5. Wetlands (inland) -> 5.1. Wetlands (inland) - Permanent Rivers/Streams/Creeks (includes waterfalls)
suitability: Suitable  
5. Wetlands (inland) -> 5.2. Wetlands (inland) - Seasonal/Intermittent/Irregular Rivers/Streams/Creeks
suitability: Suitable  
5. Wetlands (inland) -> 5.5. Wetlands (inland) - Permanent Freshwater Lakes (over 8ha)
suitability: Marginal  
9. Marine Neritic -> 9.10. Marine Neritic - Estuaries
suitability: Marginal  
13. Marine Coastal/Supratidal -> 13.4. Marine Coastal/Supratidal - Coastal Brackish/Saline Lagoons/Marine Lakes
suitability: Marginal  
13. Marine Coastal/Supratidal -> 13.5. Marine Coastal/Supratidal - Coastal Freshwater Lakes
suitability: Marginal  
1. Land/water protection -> 1.1. Site/area protection
1. Land/water protection -> 1.2. Resource & habitat protection
2. Land/water management -> 2.1. Site/area management
3. Species management -> 3.4. Ex-situ conservation -> 3.4.1. Captive breeding/artificial propagation
4. Education & awareness -> 4.1. Formal education
4. Education & awareness -> 4.2. Training
4. Education & awareness -> 4.3. Awareness & communications
5. Law & policy -> 5.1. Legislation -> 5.1.1. International level
5. Law & policy -> 5.1. Legislation -> 5.1.2. National level
5. Law & policy -> 5.4. Compliance and enforcement -> 5.4.2. National level
6. Livelihood, economic & other incentives -> 6.1. Linked enterprises & livelihood alternatives

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
In-Place Species Management
In-Place Education
  Included in international legislation:Yes
  Subject to any international management/trade controls:Yes
4. Transportation & service corridors -> 4.3. Shipping lanes
♦ timing: Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.2. Species disturbance

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.1. Intentional use: (subsistence/small scale)
♦ timing: Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.2. Intentional use: (large scale)
♦ timing: Past, Unlikely to Return    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.4. Unintentional effects: (large scale)
♦ timing: Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

9. Pollution -> 9.2. Industrial & military effluents -> 9.2.1. Oil spills
♦ timing: Future    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

11. Climate change & severe weather -> 11.2. Droughts
♦ timing: Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends
1. Research -> 1.3. Life history & ecology
1. Research -> 1.5. Threats
1. Research -> 1.6. Actions
2. Conservation Planning -> 2.1. Species Action/Recovery Plan
3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends

Bibliography [top]

Groombridge, B. (ed.). 1994. IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

IUCN. 1990. IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

IUCN. 2008. 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Available at: (Accessed: 5 October 2008).

IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre. 1986. 1986 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre. 1988. IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

Scott, P. 1965. Section XIII. Preliminary List of Rare Mammals and Birds. The Launching of a New Ark. First Report of the President and Trustees of the World Wildlife Fund. An International Foundation for saving the world's wildlife and wild places 1961-1964, pp. 15-207. Collins, London, UK.

Thornback, J. and Jenkins, M. 1982. The IUCN Mammal Red Data Book. Part 1: Threatened mammalian taxa of the Americas and the Australasian zoogeographic region (excluding Cetacea). IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.

Citation: Marmontel, M. 2008. Trichechus inunguis. In: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T22102A9356406. . Downloaded on 13 October 2015.
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