The terrible story of the manatees of Xochimilco sounds like a lie, but unfortunately it is a very curious truth. In 1976, the canals of Xochimilco, currently a World Heritage Site, suffered from a plague of water lilies, a plant species that prevented the traditional trajineras from circulating freely.
Authorities decided to release manatees to eat the water lilies.
Manatees are native to places with tropical climates, such as the Caribbean and Florida, in the United States. The height of Mexico City, as well as the rather temperate climate, are far from offering the ideal conditions for the development of these aquatic mammals. The versions vary, but several sources state that up to 28 specimens were imported from the Grijalva River, which runs from Chiapas to Tabasco. In other words, unrelated to the weather and conditions of Mexico City. It is important to note that the lily itself was not originally from Mexico, but was brought from the Amazon by Porfirio Diaz’s wife.
The manatees did not last long, but gave us a lesson.
Manatees are gentle and curious animals. Soon the rumor spread that there were sea monsters swimming in the canals. This led, according to accounts of the time, to the residents of Xochimilco seeing them as a threat. According to versions, however, the taste of manatee meat ended up captivating the residents, who exterminated these animals that had no business being thousands of miles from their natural habitat. Legend has it, however, that their cursed souls continue to roam the canals.
Introducing non-endemic species has had catastrophic results in other parts of the world.
The history of the manatees of Xochimilco is not the only one in which the introduction of alien species creates chaos either for the environment or for the species itself. In Australia, for example, sugarcane fields in the state of Queensland were plagued by insects. The authorities decided to import cane toads from Brazil, to kill off the insects. Decades later, cane toads are a veritable pest and have developed a poison that affects dogs, cats and humans. They also kill crops and affect local species. In less than eighty years, the 128 original toads have become more than 200 million…
Let’s remember the hippos of Pablo Escobar in Colombia.
The story of the manatees of Xochimilco reminds us of thehippos that drug lord Pablo Escobar purchased for his estate in Colombia, although a bit in reverse, as the hippos have reproduced and wrecked the ecosystem’s equilibrium.