West African Manatee

African manatee
Photo: Pelican

West African Manatee, Trichechus senegalensis, is the only sirenian in Nigeria, an order of herbivorous mammals that inhabit swamps, rivers, estuaries, and marine wetlands a nd coastal marine waters, historically taken for the Mermaid mythical figure. The species occurs within the lower reaches of the Niger River. In the Benue River, they seek refuge during the dry season in permanent lakes that communicate with the rivers during high water but are cut off when river waters subside. They roam the Urasi River in the Okija-Ihiala-Oguta area between Anambra and Imo States of Nigeria.

The body of West African manatees is greyish brown; and the sparse hairs are white. They are adapted for marine life by the streamlined, spindle-shaped body; a tail flattened horizontally like a spatula; and forelimbs, bearing nails, that act as paddles. These plump animals weigh nearly 454 kg, and grow to about 3 meters long. They have a broad muzzle that is adapted for feeding on aquatic plants. The closest relationship among this solitary animal is most likely found between a mother and her calf. They live for an estimated 30 years.