All of our land dwelling creatures have now been featured on the blog, so I thought it was time to take a quick look below the water and shine the spotlight on our (mostly) underwater dwelling living in the lake at Pilpintuwasi and the very odd pairing they have formed.
Our pool is home to many a creature: varied species of Amazon fish, many turtles, caimans, and a manatee. These are all elusive creatures, and only very patient or lucky visitors get a good look at these guys.
First up, the Amazonian Manatee (Trichechus inunguis). Marbino the Manatee.
Ours is an adult male called Marbino, who has been lazing around our lake for the last 5 years. He has grown to about 2.5m in size and weighs a couple hundred kilograms. Marbino is extremely shy, but can sometimes be spotted extending his snout out of the water to breathe, or chowing down on the floating river plants we bring up from the river daily.
Manatees, sometimes called sea cows, are more well known in their marine form, but also make their home in the rivers of the Amazon basin. They are shy vegetarians, cruising the slow moving waters and lakes for the abundant water lettuce, hyacinths and other floating plants. This makes them important in the river ecosystem, and they keep rivers from getting clogged up by these plants. Amazonian manatees are currently in danger of extinction, thanks mostly to hunting, and are classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN.
We also have 2, possibly 3, spectacled caimans (Caiman crocodilus) dwelling in the lake as well. These are wild residents of Pilpintuwasi- they crawled in during high water season and due to the safety and abundance of fish in our pond, have decided to stick around. As long as they leave our monkeys in peace, we are happy to give them a safe place to hang out.
Spectacled caimans are small in size, only growing to about 2m in length. They live through Central and tropical South America where they act as oppurtunistic predators, eating everything from fish and mammals to insects and molluscs. They are not commercially valuable in the leather trade, though locally they are hunted for meat.
Our caimans and manatee have struck up a very special friendship. Sitting quietly by the lake, one might spot the nostrils of the caiman floating. Then, a mass of bubbles will appear around him, and the caiman will appear to be rising and falling – lifted out of the water. A moment more and the fins of the manatee will appear on either side of the caiman’s body; the manatee has actually swum underneath the caiman, placed himself belly to belly and seems to play a game with his friend.
We have heard stories of this pairing at Pilpintuwasi, but didn’t believe it until we observed it with the volunteers. Gudrun has some photo evidence for the skeptic. Gart, the owner of San Pedro Lodge, was able to snap a few shots of the couple.