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Manatees to go forth and multiply

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Two male sea cows from the River Safari are leaving on a 35-hour journey to the Caribbean.

The West Indian manatees Kai and Junior are being sent to the French territory of Guadeloupe, the historic home of the species, as part of an international programme that aims to increase the population of these animals there.

A farewell ceremony was held for them yesterday afternoon at the River Safari, The Straits Times reported.

It was attended by Mrs Laurence Beau, deputy head of mission at the Embassy of France in Singapore, and Mr Mike Barclay, group chief executive of Mandai Park Holdings, which manages the River Safari.

Kai and Junior are among the 14 manatees at the River Safari.

They were selected because they are young, and have reached sexual maturity. Kai is seven years old this year, and Junior is six.

The repopulation project is spearheaded by the National Park of Guadeloupe and will involve 15 manatees from zoos around the world.

Zoo animals are used for the project as the National Park of Guadeloupe hopes to reduce the impact on wild populations. Animals that are used to human contact would also be easier to manage under the programme.

The marine mammals will be sent to a 15,000ha bay, which will protect the manatees from marine traffic by way of a no-entry zone.

The future offspring from the initial 15 manatees will be reintroduced to the wild to repopulate the region.

According to National Geographic, there are three species of manatees, all of which are threatened by extinction.

Because they are large and slow-moving marine mammals, they are often easy targets for hunters who kill them for their oil and hides.

They are also vulnerable to being hit by boats and getting caught in carelessly discarded fishing nets.