The Trichechus senegalensis is a large aquatic mammal of the Sirenia order which is found in coastal and inland wetlands of West Africa, between Mauritania and Angola, and in inlands to Mali, Niger and Chad. It is an endangered species which is on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals as Vulnerable.
Its transfer to Appendix 1 of CITES will positively contribute to the harmonization of national policies in range States and will support the implementation of the Action Plan for the Conservation of the West African Manatee which was developed under the Memorandum of Agreement on the CMS Conservation of the Manatee and small Cetaceans of West Africa and Macronesian.
Furthermore, this step endows range States with the necessary power to mobilize additional funding at national and international level to improve conservation efforts and fight against fraud as well as intensify national and international interest for further studies of the species.
But range States are much expected to strengthening efforts to combat fraud and intensify their commitment for the implementation of more stringent sanctions against those involved in the illicit trade of the West African manatee. Similarly, they are expected do more outreach to communities as regards the prime significance of the protection of the manatee.
Though being limited, available data on these mammals clearly show that the population of manatees in West Africa account for at least 10,000 animals and show that there is a projected decline by more than 30% over the next three generations. We also learned that the species is more and more vulnerable as a result of the drawback, the fragmentation and the degradation of its habitat throughout its range because of the continuous growth of human populations. The characteristics of the species’ biological cycle quickly worsen the case of the West African manatee (long gestation period and late sexual maturity in particular, building of dams, intensification of agriculture on the habitat of the species, poaching and consumption of the species meat, etc.).
The transfer of West African Manatee in Annex 1 of the CITES convention therefore recalls the urgent need for range States to fight against the fraud of this mammal by informing the public that the capture and trade of manatees are illegal.
The Declaration of range States of West African Manatee was adopted by Benin, Cote d'Ivoire, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone in Dakar, Senegal on 19th February 2013. It recalls some urgent measures to be enforced in each of the range States. This includes the design of posters for distribution in markets, borders, airports, in national parks and government buildings. The same proclamation added the need to:
Create manuals which are relevant to the dynamics of local business to help identify marketed manatees products including meat, oil, fat and bone;
Update and raise awareness to the public on the existing penalties as regards violation of laws protecting manatees and encourage rewards/incentives to be granted to those who help identify and report criminals;
Cater for incentives at community level for those who choose not to hunt Manatee;
Collaborate with the police and national authorities in charge of the fight against wildlife fraud to strengthen compliance with existing laws in the markets selling manatees;
Work with stakeholders to prepare a study on illegal trade in order to better understand the routes and the structure of the trade, and define, based on the results of this study, cross-border measures that could be adopted to end the illegal trade.