SINGAPORE - Asia's only river-themed wildlife park, River Safari, has unveiled its first animal icon: Canola the manatee.
Abandoned as a calf, Canola was given a fighting chance to live by River Safari's team of aquarists who dived in to bottle-feed the female every two to three hours during the first three months of its life.
At the unveiling on Wednesday (May 25) Deputy Head Aquarist, River Safari, Mr Keith So, who named the manatee, said: "Canola is the first manatee hand-raised by aquarists in River Safari. Its life story shows a relentless fighting spirit, and love and care between wildlife and humans."
In place of its mother's milk, Canola was given a special formula infused with canola oil, which inspired its name.
"Canola is like my granddaughter. I was so happy to see it grow day after day," said Mr So .
"Before I left Canola with its herd, it swam back to me and gave me a hug," he added, citing it as an unforgettable moment in his life.
As River Safari's animal icon, the 22-month-old Canola is also the wildlife ambassador for all threatened wildlife in the wild.
"By making Canola an icon and ambassador animal, we hope its life story will inspire our guests to join in our conservation efforts to save threatened freshwater wildlife," said Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Chief Life Sciences Officer, Wildlife Reserves Singapore.
Mr So added: "Despite having a rough start to its life, it has developed a very gentle, kind and patient nature." He recalled how Canola never jostles for food like other manatees during token feeding sessions. "It was a unanimous decision to select it as our animal icon."
Manatees are listed as Vulnerable in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. They do not have any natural predators. However, fishing boats cut them when they surface to breathe and fishing gears clog up their intestines.
Wild manatees have been extinct for the past century in Guadeloupe in the Caribbean due to hunting, entrapment in commercial nets and collisions with propellers and motorboats. River Safari plans to repatriate two manatees to repopulate the region.
On weekends from June 4 to 26 , the public can join Manatee Madness at the River Safari for free manatee-themed activities such as art and craft Sessions, manatee feeding and Q&A with aquarists as well as a manatee mascot meet-and-greet. Admission charges to the River Safari apply.
For more information, please visit the following website: http://www.riversafari.com.sg/events-promos/manatee-madness.html.
A behind-the-scenes tour with Canola will be held on June 11, 19 and 25, from 9.30am to 11am. Aquarists will demonstrate how they hand-raise baby manatees and work with Canola on conditioning exercises in which it is trained to roll over for medical procedures. The maximum capacity of each tour is 20 people.
Admission costs $18 a person and is only open to signups, which start on May 31 at https://estore.wrs.com.sg/education-public-programmes.