The Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus), a subspecies of the West Indian manatee, inhabits fresh, brackish, and warm coastal waters distributed along the eastern border of Central America, the northern coast of South America, and throughout the Wider Caribbean Region. Threatened primarily by human encroachment, poaching, and habitat degradation, Antillean manatees are listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The impact of disease on population viability remains unknown in spite of concerns surrounding the species' ability to rebound from a population crash should an epizootic occur. To gain insight on the baseline health of this subspecies, a total of 191 blood samples were collected opportunistically from wild Antillean manatees in Belize between 1997 and 2009. Hematologic and biochemical reference intervals were established, and antibody prevalence to eight pathogens with zoonotic potential was determined. Age was found to be a significant factor of variation in mean blood values, whereas sex, capture site, and season contributed less to overall differences in parameter values. Negative antibody titers were reported for all pathogens surveyed except for Leptospira bratislava, L. canicola, and L. icterohemorrhagiae, Toxoplasma gondii, and morbillivirus. As part of comprehensive health assessment in manatees from Belize, this study will serve as a benchmark aiding in early disease detection and in the discernment of important epidemiologic patterns in the manatees of this region. Additionally, it will provide some of the initial tools to explore the broader application of manatees as sentinel species of nearshore ecosystem health.
Additional publication details
Health assessment and seroepidemiologic survey of potential pathogens in wild Antillean manatees (Trichechus manatus manatus)