Even at a young age, Jamal knew that he wanted his life’s work to involve manatees. Now known as “the manatee man” Jamal Galves is the Belize Manatee Project Program Coordinator in his home village of Gales Point but in his own words he says that he is “just a kid trying to save manatees.” However now he has a lot more influence now than he did when he was a teenager.
There were many different threats that combined in order to make the manatees one of the most threatened marine mammals. At one point the people of the land hunted them, but now people have figured out other ways in order to harm them. One of the most common ways to harm a manatee comes from striking them with a boat. Many times they are able to hear the boat coming, but they are not able to swim away fast enough. This happens when people ignore the wake bans where there are manatee habitats.
The identification of the no-wake zones is poorly marked however, and people often don’tslow down, even if the areas are marked clear as day.
“A lot of it has to do with the peoples’ lack of understanding or appreciation for manatees,” Galves says. “They have no respect for wake zones or no reason to comply. To me, it seems like a small, easy thing for them to comply and just slow down.”
This issue along with the issues of pollution, loss of valuable coastal habitat (such as mangroves), and the continued threat of poaching, have been a cocktail for disaster in more recent years.
Unfortunately, it seems to affect the youngest the most. “If a mother and her calf are feeding and a boat comes, the mother’s first instinct is to run. They communicate using chirps at a low volume, and it’s very difficult for them to get back together [after they’ve been separated].”
This is when Galves comes in to help out. When they see an abandoned manatee calf or hear of such an incidence, then they spring into action. They collect the baby manatee that by then is generally in poor health.
This is when they rehabilitate the animal back to health with bottled milk and they help to reintroduce the manatee into the wild. However the costs get to be so high (one milk bottle costs from $14 to $17 American dollars, and they need to be fed a bottle every two hours), so Galves uses fundraising to fund his passions.