Response to Conditioned Stimuli by Two Rehabilitated and Released West Indian Manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris)

Abstract: U.S. regulations discourage research that requires training with West Indian manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris) due to the concern that trained manatees would become accustomed to approaching humans for food and would continue to approach people once released back to the wild. Learning theory suggests that behaviors acquired while in captivity may not transfer well to the new context of the wild habitat, however. In this study, two female, rehabilitating manatees were trained to perform up to five husbandry behaviors. Prior to their release, the behaviors were no longer reinforced. Response to training signals was reduced for all behaviors when reinforcement was withheld. In post-release observations, the manatees were located by satellite and radio-telemetry, and training signals were presented. Neither manatee performed any of the trained behaviors. The results of this case study suggest that training releasable manatees may be a viable option.

Key Words: West Indian manatee, Trichechus manatus latirostris, extinction, husbandry conditioning, research training, rehabilitation, reintroduction, context learning, endangered, Florida

Document Type: Research article

DOI: 10.1578/AM.32.1.2006.66

Page Numbers: 66-74

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