Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Day at the Museum

I spent Thursday at the university museum in Dakar collecting samples of bone from their archived collection of West African manatee skulls that date back to the 1940's. This was only allowed after several meetings and much discussion with the museum's curator (who I've promised to share all results with and acknowledge in publications, a small price to pay for such access!), who also then had to search for 2 weeks to locate the key to open the glass cabinet where the manatee skulls are stored. Somewhere there's also an original register that the specimens were logged into when they came to the museum long ago, but it appears to be MIA for now. Fingers crossed he can find it, because it would provide important background info on the skulls, such as exactly where they were found, if the manatees were hunted or died naurally, possibly their gender, length and weight information, etc.

Speaking of skulls, there's a huge elephant skull in the front entry of the museum, which I find quite poignant because there are only a few elephants left alive in Senegal today, all in Niokolo-Koba national park in the SE corner of the country. I also recently heard from a friend who studies lions that there may be less than 12 lions left in Senegal, and very few wild carnivores of any kind. I hope this country can take the drastic steps needed to save their wildlife. But I digress, that topic is for another day......
It's possible that only dorky biologists like myself will understand why it was amazing that I was allowed to "destructively sample" these skulls (which sounds alot worse than it is- although samples are removed from each specimen, the utmost care is taken to preserve them, and to take samples from parts that will not negatively impact them as a display specimens), but to me it was an incredible experience. Here were manatee skulls collected by the French naturalist Cadenat as he traveled around Senegal almost 70 years ago, many from Joal in the central Senegal Delta Saloum region, a manatee calf skull collected in Richard-Toll, and a few skulls with no ID number or information on them. Each of these have been sitting in these dark, dusty cabinets for years, probably only handled a couple times since they were placed there, but each possessing vital information that can help us understand and conserve the species in the present. For me it's definitely like finding treasure.
From each skull I took a tiny piece of the spongy nasal tissue bone from inside the nares (that's the internal part of the nose) for genetics, a tooth for stable isotope analyses, and 1 earbone (if they were present) for age determination. I photographed each skull and wrote down whatever information was available (some had small tags attached, others had writing directly on the skull).
On this one you can see notes about its collection by Cadenat written on the top of the skull
Tomas (with curator Alain Seck) carefully extracts an ear bone from a skull.
By the end I had samples from 18 individuals, each carefully bagged and labelled with the museum's ID number and my own. This has almost doubled the number of manatee samples I have from Senegal and will be great for both overall baseline species information, and for historical comparison. I practically danced out of the museum. Now I hope the register can be found, and I'm looking for Cadenat's publications that may include details on these specimens so I can learn more about them. Thanks again to curator Alain Seck for agreeing to this collaboration!  

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Jonathan's return to Gabon and Victor update

I'm very happy to report that Puerto Rican manatee Masters student Jonathan Perez-Rivera has returned to Gabon to continue his work with Victor! Jonathan arrived back in Gabon several weeks ago, but this has been in the works for several months, because it's now time to start weaning Victor off his milk formula and onto an adult manatee diet of native plants so that he'll be able to be released back to the wild (hopefully next winter). Since Victor's Gabonese caretakers don't have previous experience transitioning a manatee to a plant diet, and because Jonathan wanted to continue his study of Victor's growth as part of his degree, it was a perfect match when we needed a volunteer to help train the Gabonese staff. He'll be there for four months and will be providing regular updates when he can from that remote location (cell phone and internet signals are very weak) which I'll post here. I'd like to thank Georgia Aquarium again for generously providing the funds that allowed us to get Jonathan back to Gabon, as well as covering the costs of Victor's caretakers and equipment. Thanks also to Karen Azeez for all the photos below!

Brice and Jonathan conduct a health assessment on a very chubby Victor. He now weighs 90 kg! Another of Jonathan's first tasks was to build the new stretcher seen here (they used fishing net and thick bamboo for poles- very creative!) to lift Victor so they can weigh him and safely move him in and out of his enclosure for health assessments.
They also built him a quadrapod so they can suspend Victor's new hanging 150 kg scale (he outgrew the 50 kg one) to weigh him weekly, so we can track his growth. Since Victor is the first West African manatee ever to be successfully raised in captivity, all of this basic information is new for the species.
During the health assessment blood, hair, and other samples are collected, and measurements and photos are taken. After almost 22 months in captivity, Victor is fairly used to the routine by now.
The next important activity is to increase the number and species of plants in Victor's enclosure so he can begin eating native vegetation in place of his milk bottles. Because the site is so remote, there's no chance of importing lettuce or other vegetables, and we think this is for the best anyway, because Victor will quickly learn to eat the types of plants his wild relatives feed on. Banio Lagoon has abundant aquatic vegetation everywhere, so collection of plants is not difficult!
The guys put the plants in the enclosure in their natural positions (roots buried in the sediment, etc.) to look as natural as possible for Victor.
Next they observe his behavior to see which plant species he eats and which parts of the plant (roots, leaves, stems, flowers, etc.). Much of this is also new information for West African manatees, since they've only rarely ever been observed feeding in the wild, and usually it's difficult to tell which part of the plant they're eating.
Here Victor eats Crytosperma senegalense...
Then the leaves are examined to document what he far he is definitely choosing some species and not eating others that manatees in Africa have been documented feeding on. But that may change, or he may have preferences, just as some people prefer burgers and others prefer pizza.
So it's an exciting time for young Victor! I know I speak for all of Victor's care team when I say we are really happy Jonathan is back! Keep up the good work!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Seagrass Watch article

Check out the latest issue of Seagrass Watch magazine, which focuses on manatees and dugongs and includes an article I wrote on West African manatees (there's also a page about Victor!). Perfect beach reading for summer! :-)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Eastern Lac de Guiers

For the last part of our eastern Senegal trip, we were determined to drive down the eastern side of Lac de Guiers, which we had started when our car originally broke down several weeks ago. Our plan was drive back to Richard-Toll to meet Niaga, our friend from Toleu village, since he knew the eastern side of the lake well. But as we rolled back into Richard-Toll, the car died on us again. It turned out that all the bumping across the desert had loosened the battery connections, and also the battery had gotten so hot in the insane 114 F degree heat (45 degrees C) that it had boiled over, and battery acid had spilled out! So we needed a new battery. Luckily the car's owner agreed to reimburse us, the new battery was purchased and we prepared to drive down the eastern side of Lac de Guiers the next day.
Photo courtesy of Google Earth

As I've mentioned before, Lac de Guiers is a long skinny lake that flows from the Senegal River, whose water levels used to seasonally fluctuate before dams were installed at its northern and southern ends in the 1970's. Lac de Guiers is the drinking water supply for Dakar and is also used for sugar cane fields at the north end of the lake, so now the water is kept high year round, which has changed the system dramatically for both humans and wildlife. Niaga told me that before the lake was dammed, in 1972 he remembers a severe drought that almost dried up the entire lake. Lots of dead manatees were seen and eventually the sugar cane company dug a channel to the southern end of the lake to get water for their fields. Manatees also used the channel to escape back to the Senegal River.

Now that the water is always high, it has flooded areas around the lake that used to be dry. One known impact is that it has reduced the nesting habitat for the endemic Adanson's mud turtle (this is the only place it occurs in Senegal) which my husband Tomas has been studying here for many years. As we drove down the eastern shore of the lake, the first village we stopped at was Temey. Here we saw dead trees at the waterline that died as a result of flooding. It reminded me of dead trees we also saw in Ghana as a result of damming to create Lake Volta. The lake is so wide here you can't see the opposite shore.
At Temey the water is rough, creating small waves, and the locals say this is the norm due to water rushing in at the top of the lake via the Taouey canal from the Senegal River. Despite seeing some aquatic plants, locals told me manatees aren't seen here much and they don't stick around, because the water is too rough. While I'm sure manatees can handle some small waves, I can agree that they might choose calmer places with more vegetation when they have the opportunity.

Each village we stopped at had a separate area where fishermen live, so we went to those areas to talk about manatees. At one village the chief admitted that they eat manatees when they are incidentally caught in fishing nets, and they had also found a naturally dead carcass near the village a few months ago (unfortunately they said it was not still there). Niaga (below on right) spoke to the villagers about their community-based conservation initiative at Tooc Tocc Reserve and the importance of protecting manatees to the ecosystem. People really responded positively when they heard Niaga because he's from the lake and understands their lives.
At the southern end the lake narrowed and was filled with islands covered with reeds, which looked like great manatee habitat. Fishermen here said they do see them, and that they continue out the south end of the lake into the river that flows in to the Ferlo (desert).
At the very south end of the lake we found another dam near the water company pumping station. Manatees swim through these doors when they are open to access the river and other feeding areas to the south. We didn't hear any reports of manatees becoming trapped on the other side when the doors are closed.
Dam doors are only about 4 feet wide....
Water flowing south into the desert
We ended up driving around the entire lake and returning to Richard-Toll via a very bumpy bad road up the western side. I'd love to come back here, camp, and spend time out on this part of the lake looking for manatees, but for now this was a good first trip to get the lay of the land and talk to people. Many people along the way knew Niaga and told us that now that they knew we are interested, they'll call Niaga next time they see manatees. It's a first step to what I hope will be a long-term project studying manatees here.  

A few final pictures to give an idea of the feeling of this place.... a pretty mosque & baobab in Syer
young girls at Keur Momar Sarr

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Manatee killed in Niger

I received news from my colleague Boureima Boubacar in Niger that an adult female manatee was killed by a hunter on June 11 in Niamey, the capital. Several days before, a group of approximately 6 manatees had been seen in the area and from the description of their behavior, it sounds like it was a mating herd. Boureima called a local TV reporter and they went to the site to do a report about the importance of protecting the West African manatee. Unfortunately someone still killed this female, and even though it's great that Boureima was able to get samples for genetics and other analyses, it's a shame people can't respect this rare species. I'm not sure if the hunter faced any penalty.

To see Boureima's report and photos, check out this webpage (it's only in French though). The map shows that the manatee died right in downtown Niamey, pretty amazing that they are even still found in this urban area.

The sad truth is, manatees are regularly killed everyday in Africa, but we only rarely hear about it. Until we have more people on the ground, monitoring and trying to get enforcements enacted, as Boureima did, we won't even know the true extent of it.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Following the Manatee Trail

Back in 2009 I tagged three manatees in the Senegal River as part of a collaborative study with my colleagues from CBD- Habitat (a Spanish NGO) and Oceanium Dakar (a Senegalese NGO). You can see my original post about it here. It was the first time West African manatees had ever been tagged with satellite-linked tags, and we learned alot about their dry season movements in the eastern Senegal River, work which I plan to continue (more on that later). However, because the 2009 tagging was an opportunity that arose unexpectedly as a result of manatees becoming trapped behind an agricultural dam and needing to be rescued, we didn't have a budget for tracking them in the field once they were released. You can learn some great things from satellite data, but what you don't get is information about manatee behavior. We know where they went, but there were no field observations to determine what they did at each place, how many other manatees they might have been with, etc. At the time we knew that getting some basic first information about the manatees' habitat use was better than nothing (after all, no one had ever satellite tagged them before), and we assumed that after being trapped for months with almost no food they would probably go to feeding locations, but ever since I've been curious to check out some of the places they chose to go while tagged. Last week I finally got the chance.

After finishing up the necropsies and a very productive meeting with the local Water and Forestry Dept., we left Matam very early in the morning last Tuesday and headed north back up the road that eventually leads to Dakar. After about 2 hours we left the main road and headed off east on a sand track. We brought a guide with us who knew the area where we were headed because he grew up in one of the villages, otherwise it would've been unwise to drive off the only real road into such an immense and remote desert. There are no signs and many tracks through the brush, so you really need to know where you're going. Acacia bushes are everywhere and have huge spines that can easily puncture tires. So few outsiders ever venture to this area that people run in terror from the sight of a car (it literally might as well be a space ship), and teenage girls are afraid because they've never seen a white person before.
I was armed with maps of our two male manatee tag locations from this area, and was hoping to be able to drive along the Senegal River. I quickly realized that this wasn't going to be possible. The Senegal River floods an insanely huge area every rainy season (over 30 miles wide in some places) but shrinks down to a tiny river barely a half mile wide during the dry season. So roads and villages that sit on the edge of the floodplain are miles away from the river during the dry season. And even when you reach the river's edge, it's prime land for farms, so no tracks run directly along it. Instead we went to villages and other points along the river where we were able to see places where our red tagged manatee had been.  

Here's a map of one month worth of manatee locations from 2009. This manatee moved directly to this small area (only a couple miles wide) as soon as he was released, and stayed here for 4 months. The thin strip of grey in the center is the river during the dry season, the larger grey areas around it are flood zones (Map courtesy of CBD-Habitat).
Below is the same stretch of river from the map above (zoomed out a bit), and the red line and yellow point markers are our trip in order to see the parts of the river (basically two large oxbows) where the manatee spent 4 months. 
Our first stop was a larger town called Mboumba. We drove down to the river's edge and asked some locals about manatees. They told us they see them passing through, but they never stay for long. They did point out one marshy area across the river where manatees have been seen feeding.

Next we headed to the first oxbow of the river and stopped at Fonde Gande, our guide's village. There were huge fields and an agricultural dam which I was happy to find grated against the entry of curious manatees, but what really surprised me was the huge amount of aquatic plants we could see, just from the shoreline. The other interesting thing was that the water was blue and relatively clear, not muddy as in other parts of the river. It was definitely an "Aha!" moment, a happy verification that there WAS something different about this place that would draw and keep manatees here. In the photo below the dark blobs in the water are bunches of a (yet to be identified) aquatic plant, and you can see a raft of leaves of 2 plant species along the shoreline. I collected samples for stable isotope analysis. 

This is the pastoral scene in front of Fonde Gande... all that grass is underwater when the manatees are here in winter.
Our guide Haradi (on right) introduced us to his mother and brother, as well as other villagers who told us there are groups of manatees here for 3-4 months annually, just after the rainy season. They described mating behavior (groups of manatees rolling at the surface, tails flapping out of the water) as well as seeing them feeding. No one here hunts them here.

The last village we visited was Dongui Donbi (which actually sounds like "Doggie Donbi" in the local pronounciation). In the rainy season this village becomes an island within the huge flood plain of the river. The chief greeted us and told us they had seen a manatee feeding there about 4 days ago, then led us out to the river to have a look. Unfortunately we didn't see any, but with the wealth of aquatic plants here I'm not surprised if there are some around.
 While we were standing there I got a huge surprise... an American Peace Corps volunteer came walking up! The villagers had gone to get her because they assumed I was either her boss or her mother (that made me feel old!), because why else would another white person come there?! It turns out Irin is an agricultural volunteer and has been there 7 months. She had no idea there were manatees in the river but all the kids laughed and said of course they knew about the manatees! Irin told me she'd be happy to record the villagers sightings and send them to me, so I hope she will!  
East of this part of the river there's another branch of the Senegal River, and that's where a second of our tagged manatees had spent considerable time in 2009. Although I'd hoped to get there as well, it turned out to be very complicated (there was only one bridge and it was difficult to get to, and our car was still having issues so we were afraid of getting stranded too far out in the desert), so we'll have to save that trip for next time.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A few more discoveries in Navel

Yesterday afternoon we walked along part of the Navel tributary to see if we could spot the live manatee that had been reported there, but we didn't see it. We met up with the same farmer I met the day before, but he hadn't seen the manatee again. The foreground of this photo is the farmed area, but the plants don't extend all the way to the waterline, so they aren't available to any trapped manatees.
After our hot walk we stopped by our friend Commandante Seck's house to say hi and drink some cold water. After sitting in the shade for awhile, he suggested we walk down to the Senegal River to go for a swim. A few of his kids joined us and we walked down to the river where I walked along the edge looking at plants while the others dove in. (The opposite shore in the photo below is Mauritania).
 Aside from the usual grasses along the water's edge I noticed a few aquatic plants in the water, and was very surprised to find some Crinum natans! This is the first time I've found this plant in the Senegal River. I collected samples of all the plants I could find and pressed them in my plant press. It's not hard to get samples to dry in this heat!  
This morning we met up with the chief of the local Water and Forestry office, as well as the head of the Fisheries Dept., and went to the location of the second manatee carcass we had heard about. This one was found dead in February at the dam, and I assumed that it had died trapped above the dam in the tributary. However, when we got to the site, it turned out it had been found below the dam. Unfortunately the locals built a second samaller dam below the main dam, to slow the water coming out of the main dam, and this unfortunate manatee got trapped between the two. Apparently it was seen while it was still alive, but by the time they went to rescue it several days later, it had died. In the photo below the guys are standing around the manatee's burial pit- I'll spare you photos of the extremely rotten carcass.
This photo is just to the right of the photo above, and shows the second smaller dam that kept the manatee from being able to continue back out to the Senegal River.
I was able to collect an ear bone for age determination and a genetics sample, but not much else. The Fisheries Dept. plans to clean the skeleton and assemble it for an educational display once it's finished decomposing.

Tomorrow we begin our return trip towards Dakar, but we plan to make a few more stops along the way. Tomorrow we'll head off into some truly remote desert to follow two branches of the Senegal River to the locations where the 2 male manatees we tagged in 2009 spent time. Although we could see their locations from the satellite tag data, we want to investigate the habitat firsthand, to try to understand why they chose to spend 4 months in these locations. Then we return to eastern Lac de Guiers to look for manatees there. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Mummified Manatee on a Mountain

Now there's something I never thought I'd see. Can you find the manatee in this picture?

We drove to Kanel this morning and met up with Moutar, a local fisherman and our manatee contact, who has monitored the manatee situation here for many years. He took us to meet the local Water and Forestry officer, who knew where the manatee carcass that died last August was, and after some discussion he agreed to take us to it. He explained that when they found it last year, it was dead in a small pool where it had become trapped once the floodwaters receded. Apparently there are hundreds of such pools along the Senegal River floodplain, and most are in remote areas so no one would know if a manatee was trapped there. They dragged the carcass up this hillside (the guys called it a mountain, which, in this otherwise very flat landscape, I guess it is to them!) where it wouldn't get washed away by the next floods, and over the past 10 months the unrelenting sun has baked it. The skin was as hard as a rock, and all internal organs were gone.
The good news is we were able to get alot of valuable samples: dried skin for genetics; bone, teeth and gut contents for dietary analysis, and ear bones for age determination. I also found a pelvic bone, which was great because male and female manatees each have distinctly shaped pelvic bones, which allowed me to identify this carcass as male. Massamba Niang of Water and Forestry (on left in photo below) and Moutar helped me collect samples. Since this was their first necropsy they got an impromptu manatee anatomy lesson.
Photo by Tomas Diagne

Inside the manatee we found dried gut contents and noticed fish net along with dried food remains, so unfortunately this guy had swallowed fish net. We will never know if he swallowed the net before or after he became trapped in the pool with no escape back to the river, but unfortunately it was a sad end for the poor thing. 
At the end of the necropsy I gave the guys my project's new manatee outreach t-shirts as a thank you for their efforts and enthusiasm, and I'll send them standardized manatee datasheets and other information, since they were both keen to participate in the network.
While in Kanel we also visited two other sites where manatees are known to get trapped during the dry season. I've been to Wendou Kanel and Patouwel several times before (and have written about them in previous posts); these are both very large, deeper lakes that never completely dry out between flood seasons. Luckily we were told no one had seen any manatees at either site this year, and the fishermen had not had fish eaten out of nets or big holes in nets (both caused by manatees), so at least that was good news. It was still important for me to collect samples of everything manatees eat when they're here, because I have manatee samples from previous years that I plan to compare to food sources through stable isotope analysis, so I needed food source reference samples. There weren't many plants species around (nothing aquatic and only a couple species along the shoreline), but I've heard many reports that manatees eat fish and mollusks here, so I collected those.

Wendou Kanel
Moutar collecting small freshwater clams in the mud at the edge of Wendou Kanel.
I waded deep into the mud to collect some plants and clams and ended up getting stuck up to my knees! Luckily we had a big bucket for a nice foot soak...
At Patouwel I started looking for clams and a bunch of kids immediately joined me. I was amazed at how many mollusks there were- in 5 minutes these kids had filled an entire bucket!
I think there were at least 3 different species of mollusks (I hope to verify this soon), and the fishermen gave me 3 species of fish that they said manatees eat from their nets. After collecting we sat with the fishermen and their families under a big shady tree for awhile, there was a nice breeze, and we drank traditional mint tea and talked with them about manatees, their lives, and many other subjects.
Then it was time for the long, hot drive back to Ourosugui. By the time we got there, the fish and clams were already starting to rot and stink due to the 113 degree heat, and I hadn't been able to find ethyl alcohol to preserve them in. So Tomas found a liquor store (a rarity in a Muslim country, especially out here) and we made due with some gin. Beggars can't be chosers! Those of you who know me, know that I'm horribly allergic to gin, so I can promise you I didn't drink any :-)
All in all, a very good day!

Friday, June 08, 2012

Made It to Matam!

It felt like getting to Matam was one of the hardest things I've done in a long time. After 3 weeks of endless car repairs, we were finally ready to try again to get to eastern Senegal for manatee fieldwork. Tomas and I left Dakar very early Tuesday morning, and it was exhilirating driving out of the city in the cool pre-dawn air. We had an easy trip to Richard-Toll, arriving there in mid-afternoon. After spending the night, we got up at 5:30am and had a quick cup of coffee before starting the long drive to Matam.

The road deteriorates quickly once you leave Richard-Toll, and eventually becomes a thin strip of asphalt riddled with deep potholes. When a car, bus or large truck is coming at you, it's a constant game of chicken as both vehicles swerve around potholes and  off the edge of the pavement to avoid hitting each other at the last second. There are also goats, sheep, donkeys, lots of cows, and the occasional camel standing in the road to avoid, and sometimes all traffic comes to a stop as a large herd crosses. Most of the time you drive on the dirt next to the road, rather than on it. Going too fast only results in flat tires, so you become resigned to a slow trip. This photo pretty much sums it up...
Along the way we stopped to climb some sand dunes that overlook the Senegal River in the distance. I have seen these dunes many times, but have never been able to stop before.
Below is a view of the Senegal River (the green strip on the horizon) from atop the dunes. In the rainy season the river floods this entire area, right up to the base of the dunes. In some places here, the river floods an area 30 miles wide. But the rains haven't started yet, so everything in dry as a bone. Every time I make this trip, I find myself in a state of disbelief that manatees live in this harsh environment.
We reached Ourosougi, the town next to Matam, in the early afternoon and checked in at the Oasis Hotel. The Oasis is dusty, but it's one of the only places in town with air-conditioned rooms, and with the thermometer at 112 F, it's a necessity. In the evening we had dinner with our friend Commandante Seck, who used to work for ther Senegal River Authority (he was a great help in providing the tractor during our manatee rescues here in 2009) and now works for the Water and Forestry Dept. Although both water and forests are in short supply here, they're in charge of wildlife issues and very interested in manatees. He invited us to his office to meet his new boss, so this morning we headed over there.

We had a really nice meeting with Commandante Seck and Mr. Dieng, who it turned out Tomas knew from his days reintroducing sulcata tortoises to the wild in the Ferlo, in central Senegal. We explained our history working with manatees in this area, my interest in developing a long-term study site here, and that our current mission is to collect  samples of foods that manatees eat (plants, fish, and freshwater mollusks), as well as any recent information about manatees here. They immediately told us that there had been two dead manatees: one last August 2011 in Kanel (about an hour south) and one at the nearby Navel Dam last February.

Navel is a tributary of the Senegal River, and the Navel Dam has been a problem for manatees ever since it's construction was completed in 2007. Several have drowned up against its grates or have been crushed by the gates as they closed. Mr. Dieng gave me copies of the photos and measurements they took (unfortunately no one did a necropsy) before they buried it. From the photos it appears this manatee starved to death, which is not surprising, because there are no plants for them to eat once the water recedes back to the channel. Although it's fairly decomposed in the photo below, the longitudinal fold in the manatee's belly indicates it was emaciated (other photos show additional signs). This is another unfortunate consequence of the dam- manatees get trapped and can't leave as the waters recede and all their food sources die off during the dry season. Before the dam they followed the receding water back to the Senegal River, but now the dam traps them in this tributary.  
 Photo courtesy of Senegal Water and Forestry Department

There was no report or photos of the second dead manatee at Kanel, but a few bones had been collected, and Mr. Dieng allowed me to take two for my analyses in Florida. These bones had dried tissue on them which will be good for genetics analysis, and a sample of the bones will be used for stable isotope analysis to determine the manatee's diet. Tomorrow we'll drive to Kanel to try to find the rest of the carcass and sample manatee food items there as well.
In the evening we drove out to Navel, looked at the dam and walked around part of the tributary where we rescued 7 manatees in 2009. It was peaceful although still brutally hot, even as the sun set. I saw a farmer working at the edge of the river and stopped to say hello. We chatted for awhile and then I mentioned I was interested in manatees. He told me he had seen one there in the tributary yesterday, laying on the surface at noon. He told me he had thrown a corn stalk to it, and the manatee had immediately eaten it. He also said they eat tomatoes and other plants at the water's edge. I'm disheartened to hear there is another manatee (and maybe more than one) trapped here, because the tribuatry is miles long, muddy and deep, so it would be almost impossible to catch it now. Sometimes people tell you what they think you want to hear, so I'd like to confirm this man's story and will definitely let the Water and Forestry guys know about it.