Colombia’s manatees are on the brink of extinction. Extreme drought is forcing the mammals from their natural habitat, increasing illegal hunting due to demands for their meat on the local market – currently on sale for $3 per kilo.
A total of 20 animals are said to have been “massacred” in the wetland of La Redonda, close to the town of Mahates in Bolívar, Colombia´s El Tiempo reported.
During last two months a score of these giants they have been killed in this region of the country. Adult manatees can weigh up to 600 kilos and measure four meters long.
The incident occurred in the village of Evitar, Bolivar. Fisherman slaughtered the mammals, whose bodies were visible in the shallow water, due to fierce drought, a result of the El Niño weather phenomenon.
“Thanks to the community report, we reached the Redonda wetlands where we found four skeletons of the manatee species, currently danger of extinction as a result of poaching apparently committed by nearby residents, in an unfortunate environmental incident.” Colonel Victor Hugo Gomez Arias, commander of the Police Bolivar said.
NGO FUNAD, which supports sustainable development and environmental awareness tweeted: “Locals denounce killing of manatees in Mahates wetland, because of drought”.
— FUNAD (@FUNAD_ONG) February 2, 2016
“In Mahates, a kilo of Manatee meat is being sold by fishermen for between nine and 10,000 (around $3) and is very appetizing because the drought did not leave any fish,” warned the region’s mayor, Victor Olascoaga Guerra.
Guerra says that in the last 60 days around two dozen of these animals have been slaughtered.
“They are harmless and do not attack anyone. They are taking advantage of. People kill them and sell their meat,” said Juan Carlos Palacio, a fisherman in the area, who also pointed out that they are not involved in this situation, but that people area entering the area simply to pursue the mammals.
Police in the Bolivar region announced that there will be an increase of soldiers in the area, and have asked fishermen report people who are caught committing this crime.
Fishermen are not only killing the species in the area, but are also subjecting the animals to torture that can last several hours.
“There is a canal, La Bodega, which is normally 20 meters wide and about five deep where manatees come to feed, but due to drought many have run aground, which has made it easier for some people kill them with sticks,” said Carlos Alberto Ospina, Police inspector of Evitar village.
However, when manatees try to escape by the few remaining water channels they face being harpooned.
Iguanas targeted too
Bolivar police also reported that in the early hours of Wednesday, local forces seized 13,000 iguana eggs in the village of Talaila Nuevo, in the town of Mompox, south of the department.
This seizure of iguana eggs adds to the 12,000 seized last week in the same region.
To remove the eggs, traffickers open the iguana using a knife incision and then take the eggs, leaving the mother exposed to infection, infertility and death soon after, a senior officer said.
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