Traditional knowledge gained through daily interactions with the environment can yield insights into processes at temporal or spatial scales that may be overlooked by conventional scientific research. Ninety interviews were conducted with riverine people in the vicinity of Anavilhanas National Park, Tapajós–Arapiuns Extractive Reserve and Tapajós National Forest in the Brazilian Amazon, with the aim to increase knowledge of the feeding habits of the Amazonian manatee Trichechus inunguis and evaluate its conservation status in contrasting protected areas. In Anavilhanas respondents identified 31 plant species consumed by the manatee, of which vines had the highest cognitive salience index value (the summed importance of each plant species), even though they are available to manatees only during the high-water season. In the Tapajós region 37 plant species were identified, with submerged species with floating leaves being the main component of the manatee's diet. Although hunting has declined it still occurs in Anavilhanas, which is susceptible to environmental crimes because of its proximity to urban centres. Manatee hunting seems to be infrequent in the Tapajós region, having little impact on the population. Given the broad knowledge within the local community about the Amazonian manatee, involvement of riverine people in manatee conservation activities is fundamental for reducing threats and increasing conservation effectiveness.