Campaign in Belize against manatee hunts
January 31, 1998
Web posted at: 11:44 p.m. EDT (2344 GMT)
BELIZE CITY, Belize (CNN) -- Environmentalists who monitor populations of endangered manatees say 1997 was the worst year in two decades for the sea-faring mammals, who populate shallow coastal waters from Florida to South America.
Once numbering around 30,000, there are now just a few hundred remaining manatees, relatives of the elephant who feed on coastal grasses.
One major threat to their survival comes from boats -- many manatee carry scars from collisions with propellers. But in Belize and other Latin American countries, the animals are also hunted for their meat -- and their unproven medicinal value as an aphrodisiac.
But now, some Belizean villagers, supported by environmentalists from the United States, are on patrol, trying to stop the hunters.
"We can see that attitudes are being changed," says Wil Maheia of the Belize Center for Environmental Studies. "We have people coming into our office telling us they have seen manatees recently or if they have seen some kind of suspicious behavior around the manatees."