The West African manatee is the least studied of the 4 species of Sirenians. Although crocodiles and sharks occasionally kill manatees in Africa, their only significant threat comes from human encroachment, such as poaching, habitat loss, and other environmental impacts.
The West African manatee can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and measure up to 12 feet long. It looks like a walrus with wrinkled gray-brown skin. It's nicknamed the "sea cow" because it can only travel 3 - 5 miles per hour. When frightened, however, this manatee can move up to 20 mph. It uses its forelimbs as flippers, and its rear is horizontal and flat. The manatee uses its flippers to embrace and touch other manatees as well as eat food. It has strong molars which are used to crush vegetable matter. When these fall out, they are replaced with a new set.
Manatees eat over 60 different plant species, such as mangrove leaves, turtle grass, and algae. They use their divided upper lip to chew from side to side. It has to consume 100 lbs of plant matter per day in order to keep its body warm. Manatees have been known to eat small amounts of fish from nets in addition to their vegetarian diet.
They occur in coastal marine, estuarine waters, and fresh river systems along the western coast of Africa, including areas in Gambia, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Republic of the Congo, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Most females become sexually mature between the ages of 7 and 9, however, females are capable of reproduction as early as 4 years of age. The gestation period lasts from 12 to 14 months. Normally, 1 calf is born, although on rare occasions 2 have been recorded. The young are born with molars and premolars, allowing them to eat sea grass within the first 3 weeks of birth.