What are manatees?
Manatees are large herbivorous marine mammals that live in different types of wetland habitats, varying from estuaries, rivers and continental habitats. It’s endangered species appearing on the IUCN Red List. They migrate easily from one type of wetland to the other; from freshwater wetlands to brackish estuaries and coastal areas. Manatees in fact are excellent indicators of healthy wetlands; if manatees are present it is only in wetlands that are in a good state without big human interference.
What are the problems with monitoring manatees?
There are many challenges in manatee monitoring in West Africa. With unclear, murky water aerial surveys are not possible. Furthermore, as defining the Manatee’s age is done by measuring the ear bone rings - which grow like tree rings - living manatees’ age is difficultly estimated.
Watch the videos of the training
Together with international specialists, 10 training modules were developed and instructed to government officials and NGO partners of the West African Manatee Conservation project from the six countries of Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, and Guinea . With the new uniform monitoring methods, all data from West Africa can be compared and added to the central database, now being built by the Wetlands International Africa. This strengthens the capacity of estimating and analysing numbers and trends, building the foundation for manatee habitat protection and restoration.
Instructed training module themes include Morphometric and Cranial Measurements, and Methods to Estimate Numbers of Manatees: Sightings, Scanning and Telemetry. Both these modules will be available in video soon.
What are the problems the manatees face?
In the West African sub-region, the endangered West African manatee (Trichechus Senegalensis) faces different problems per country, including transboundary complications. Natural threats include the crocodile, sharks, skin infections, and drought. For example, in the Matam area in Senegal lower water levels from drought cause the stranding of these animals, as they get cut off from the main river. Wetlands International Africa has already completed two rescue missions. It’s an arduous task getting these big animals out of the water and to release them in parts of the river where water is abundant. Climate change further increases this problem as droughts are more frequent and prolonged.
How do humans to affect the manatees’ habitats?
Manatees often are in conflict with human behaviour. Wetlands are converted for agricultural development and salt winning, which decreases the manatee’s habitat. Furthermore, pollution in the form of pesticides and plastic bags, as well as oil spills is a cause of habitat degradation. In Senegal, dam construction blocks the natural migration routes. Manatees often get trapped in the dam sluices, turbines and gates. In Ghana, amongst other countries, anti-salt dams that protect the rice fields behind the mangroves against the seawater intrusion also block the migration routes of the manatee.
“In Sierra Leone, people have no respect for the manatee; if we do not act fast, it will disappear”, says Victor Kargbo of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources. In Sierra Leone, laws have been put in place to protect the species, but hunters continue the catching and killing of manatees. Hunters are often respected for the killing of a manatee; remains are used for decoration in hunter’s homes showing accomplishment. The manatees have highly prized, tasty meat, and other parts are also used for traditional medicine (oil, skins, bones, and sexual organs.), rituals and religious practices.
“In Guinea Bissau, all ethnic groups attach spiritual value to the manatees. Hunting manatees brings bad luck, local tribes believe. However, accidents with fishing nets still cause at least 25 manatee deaths per year”, states Cristina da Silva from Guinea Bissau’s Instituto da Biodiversidade e Areas Protegidas. Two of Guinea Bissau’s Marine Protected Areas are excellent habitats for manatees; Parque Nacional de Orfango and Parque Marinho Comunitario de Urok, which are protected for years now.
Hunters from the Saloum Delta in Senegal come to The Gambia to catch manatees and then return to their villages across the border. These specialised hunters carried a diversity of weapons; harpoons, poison, traps. The hunters choose freshwater springs in the delta as their preferred location, where manatees come to drink.
What achieved the Conservation of the West African Manatee project so far?
One of the results of the Conservation of the West African Manatee project has been the inclusion of the Manatee in the new Fisheries law from 2009 in Sierra Leone, which prohibits the hunt and catching of all endangered wildlife and marine species. Furthermore, in The Gambia, manatee hunters coming from the Saloum Delta in bordering Senegal are now persecuted by law.
In Senegal, Wetlands International works with the Senegal River Authority and has succeeded that the grills of dams were removed. These grills blocked the migration paths, causing deaths of trapped animals. Also, a warning system has been put in place, facilitating various rescue missions in 2008 and 2009.
The first phase of the current manatee project has developed the Regional Strategy for the whole of West Africa, which includes 22 countries in which the West African Manatee occurs; from Mauritania to Angola. This work was the basis for the Memorandum of Understanding with an action plan that was developed under the auspices of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).
For more information:
Watch the videos of the training
Mr. Momar Sow
Wetlands International Africa (WIA)
Tel. +221 33 6891681
Mobile: +221 77 6512082
Read the French version
Download the Portuguese version