Thursday, September 18, 2014

Welcome to Florida Aristide!

In late August, Aristide Kamla began his Fulbright scholarship towards his PhD at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida. The college has just posted a very nice story about Aristide, which can be read here. I'm excited to continue collaborating with Aristide for African manatee baseline health and population studies in Cameroon!

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Graduation!!

It was a very happy and emotional day for me yesterday- I graduated with my PhD from the Aquatic Animal Health program, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida! Eight years of sample collection and analysis, and 5 years of PhD program are finished! I'm incredibly grateful to all the many collaborators both in Africa and the USA who worked so closely with me to make this possible. My greatest hope is that the results will help the conservation of the African manatee, and I look forward to many more years of work with this unique and fascinating species.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Recent African manatee network activities

In the past few months several network members have been very active with training, educational outreach and data presentation activities. Here are a few brief updates!

 In April, Aristide Kamla held his largest training workshop yet in Cameroon. This workshop was specifically for Biology Masters students from the University of Dschang, where Aristide completed his Masters degree several years ago. One young manatee researcher from Nigeria also attended. I was very happy my project could support this workshop, and to hear all the enthusiasm both from the students as well as the university faculty for the training, and for the opportunity to get out into the field. Apparently the university doesn't offer practical training to graduate students in the field, so this was a rare opportunity for Aristide to show them an active study site and how manatee research is conducted. The photo below shows participants, university staff and several invited speakers. Photo courtesy of A. Kamla.

In early July in Mali, Soumaila Berthe had a manatee educational booth at the World Environment festival in Bamako, which lasted for 2 weeks. He was able to raise awareness and give manatee information to hundreds of people. The project designed and distributed manatee stickers, informational pamphlets, and key rings. This was the first manatee awareness campaign in Bamako. Photo courtesy of S. Berthe.

 In mid-July this project supported Rodrigue Ngafack's travel from Cameroon to participate in the African Marine Mammal Colloquium in South Africa. He presented a poster on the results of his Masters research in Lake Ossa, Cameroon. This is the first time an African manatee presentation has been given at this conference, and we hope to increase presentations by other researchers in future years. Rodrigue really enjoyed the opportunity to meet other marine mammal researchers working in other parts of Africa. Photo courtesy of R. Ngafack.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Manatee education campaign in Lambarene, Gabon

Last Fall the local Gabonese NGO OELO (short for Oganisation Ecotouristique de Lac Oguemoue) began an educational campaign in Lambarene, the largest town on the Ogooue River in Central Gabon. The educational campaign is greatly needed, since Lambarene and the surrounding villages along the river many adjacent lakes are the center of manatee hunting in the country. OELO was founded by Cyrille Mvele (seen below at the school he attended as a child) who grew up in the area and is concerned about the illegal hunting and decimation of Gabon's protected wildlife.
OELO hired a fulltime educational outreach coordinator, Stephanie, seen below giving a presentation. Cyrille, Stephanie, and OELO co-founder Heather all helped coordinate and participated in the manatee training workshop I taught in Gabon last September.
Programs start out by giving kids a questionnaire that tests their knowledge of protected species and then follows up by providing information on which species are protected and therefore shouldn't be hunted, sold, or eaten.
As part of a program on endangered species, kids were asked to paint their favorite wildlife species in its natural habitat. Many of the kids chose elephants and monkeys, but at least 6 kids in a recent program chose manatees. The trouble was, every painting showed manatees being killed as their natural habitat! So clearly OELO has their work cut out... but it's great that they are working so hard with younger generations to teach them the importance of wildlife protection. Here are some of the manatee paintings:
 Not only is the mother manatee in the painting above harpooned, but the man is saying "I like this"! Yikes... the reality is that many people in Africa consider manatee meat a delicacy.
In the painting above fishermen net a manatee. During the manatee education program, kids won prizes (manatee posters) for answering questions correctly.
Just recently, for World Environment Day in early June, OELO commissioned a mural to be painted by a local artist on the side of a local school. They had a big ceremony for the unveiling with presentations by school nature clubs and local dignitaries. I think it looks great and hopefully it will be a constant reminder to younger generations that wildlife is worth protecting! The artist is shown with the finished mural below. I like that the manatee is near the hippo, because we have seen the 2 species is close proximity in the wild in Gabon.
Dancers at the unveiling ceremony
Stay tuned for more great work from OELO!

Exciting News from Cameroon!

I am very happy to announce that Aristide Kamla has been awarded a Fulbright scholarship for his PhD at the University of Florida! He worked very hard over the past 2 years to achieve this scholarship- he didn't qualify the first time, but instead of giving up, he worked hard to improve his test scores, and qualified the second time he applied. Cameroon only gives one PhD Fulbright award each year and Aristide has won it, which is very impressive! My heart is bursting with joy and pride for all his hard work, and that he will be able to follow in my footsteps at UF. He plans to study baseline health of the African manatee. Congratulations Aristide for this remarkable achievement!
 Also, manatee researcher Rodrigue Ngafack will soon defend his Masters thesis study (University of Dschang) of manatees in Lake Ossa, Cameroon, and he has been accepted to present his results at the upcoming African Marine Mammal Colloquium in Western Cape, South Africa next month. My project will support his travel to this conference- it's the first time there will be an African manatee presentation there. Congratulations Rodrigue!
The new Cameroon marine mammal stranding network that Aristide started last year is also being profiled on the IUCN website- click here to read about it. Great work guys!! I'm really happy to be an advisor to this project.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Nigeria: Save Our Species news article

Project funder Save Our Species has posted a nice news article on the Nigeria component of our SOS grant and all of Bolaji's work to end manatee hunting there through aquaculture training. You can read it here!!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Nigeria: Bolaji Dunsin works to end manatee hunting in Lekki Lagoon through aquaculture

It's surprising that there are any manatees left in Lekki Lagoon, which is located ~63 km east of Africa's largest city, Lagos, Nigeria (population 21 million!). Manatees are heavily hunted there and with the proximity of so many people, I'm astounded they still survive. A couple years ago, my colleague Bolaji Dunsin proposed a project to me:  he wanted to teach local manatee hunters aquaculture as an alternative livelihood to hunting manatees. Bolaji attended a manatee training workshop I co-taught in Ghana in 2008, but in his regular job he works as a fisheries officer for Nigeria's Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research. So he has both the fisheries expertise and an understanding of manatee research. Bolaji's project became one of three that I proposed to Save Our Species for funding, which we were fortunate to receive last year (the other project sites are Tocc Tocc Reserve in Senegal and Soumaila Berthe's manatee education and habitat protection project on the Bani and Niger Rivers in Mali).

Bolaji had already spoken with manatee hunters in the Ise community on Lekki Lagoon when he developed his project proposal, so once it was funded he returned and conducted education programs about the importance of protecting manatees. He talked to hunters about his proposal that they give up manatee hunting in return for training and provisioning with all the equipment they would need for catfish aquaculture. (All photos below are courtesy of Bolaji Dunsin)

 At first the hunters were skeptical and wanted the training without giving up hunting (of course!). It took Bolaji many trips to the community to convince the hunters they couldn't have the benefits of aquaculture without giving up hunting. This past summer Tomas Diagne was in the area doing turtle research, so he traveled to the community with Bolaji to talk about the success of Tocc Tocc Community Reserve in Senegal, to show that community based alternative livelihoods are working in other places. 
The hunters were convinced and took Bolaji out to mark their manatee traps for removal. All the traps were documented using a GPS to make sure they were removed and no new traps were set.
Then the training began. Bolaji brought all the supplies to the community and the hunters learned how to build fish cages. They assembled the PVC pipes to create the cage structures...

 They learned how to breed catfish...
 How to determine the sex of the catfish...
 How to prepare them for fertilization...
 fertilize eggs...
 ...and strip fertlized eggs from female catfish.
 Pens were set up and catfish were raised to market size, first in 2 demonstration pens so that everyone could learn, and later in additional cages.
Adult catfish ready for market.
Nine manatee traps were removed from the lagoon

 And the next step is teaching the village women how to prepare the fish to be sold in the market.
This project has been so successful that Bolaji has been approached by 3 other villages asking for the same aquaculture training and set-ups. We'll need to continue to raise funds to expand this effort, but we're very excited to see this working so well! I commend Bolaji for a huge amount of hard work and for building the trust of the community, and we hope his project can be used as an example for other places in Africa to show that alternative livelihoods to manatee hunting are achievable.