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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

West African Manatee Trichechus senegalensis

One of three species of manatees, this docile vegetarian lives mainly in fresh water but also feeds in the mangrove swamps on Africa’s west coast.

It has a barrel-shaped body covered in coarse gray skin and front flippers with tiny nails. Like all sirenians, it has no hind limbs and swims with its spoon-shaped tail, which slowly beats up and down as it cruises through the shallows.

Using its fleshy lips, it feeds on plants above and below the water line. Manatees lack the complex stomachs of terrestrial plant-eaters such as cattle and antelopes. Most digestion occurs in their intestines, which may be 150 ft (45 m) long. West African manatees live in groups of up to six and give birth to young about 3 ft (1 m) long. Their slow reproductive rate makes them vulnerable to environmental change, and to hunters who target them for meat and skin.

West African Manateezoom image
  • Order Sirenia
  • Length 10–13 ft (3–4 m)
  • Weight Up to 1,100 lb (500 kg)
  • Habitat Mangrove swamps, lagoons, inland waterways, estuaries
  • Distribution West Africa, from Senegal to Angola
West African Manatee habitat mapzoom image