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. 

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Senegal: Tocc Tocc Reserve becomes a Ramsar site!

Wow, when I said "stay tuned" I didn't realize how quickly I'd have more news! And fantastic news at that... today we found out Tocc Tocc Community Reserve has been designated as Senegal's newest Ramsar site (and only the 5th one designated in the country). This recognition will certainly help us to continue to protect this beautiful place and all its wildlife for future generations. And hopefully it'll help promote Tocc Tocc for eco-tourism!

Monday, February 03, 2014

Senegal: Great progress at Tocc Tocc Reserve!

In the last 6 months, big things have been happening at Tocc Tocc Community Wildlife Reserve in northern Senegal. With our 22 new EcoGuards trained, regular patrols are now occurring, they've confiscated and destroyed illegal fishing gear, set out new buoys to mark the edge of the reserve on the lake side, and are clearing an opening through the reeds to the lagoon to prepare for the construction of a new dock. Here are a few photos showing all their great activities....even more incredible when you consider we have no salary to pay the staff right now, so they are doing all this work as volunteers!

Tomas Diagne led a training session for the EcoGuards last Fall. Aside from monitoring the reserve and enforcing the regulations, they are learning how to collect and record scientific data on all the wildlife species using the reserve.
  Group photo of all 22 EcoGuards (including 4 women!), the national park Conservator, and some members of the Community Conservation Committee.
 Two EcoGuards scouting the reserve during a routine patrol
 We were also fortunate to have intern Albane Logiou this Fall, who cataloged all the fish species found in the reserve. Albane spent 3 months at Tocc Tocc.
 EcoGuards also document things like signs that manatees have been feeding at Tocc Tocc. This guard holds up reeds that have been uprooted by manatees (usually at night) so they can feed on the roots of the plants. The long shredded stems are left floating on the water's surface.  
 Clearing reeds to create a path for the new dock was a huge job! The dock will be installed very soon and then people will be able to access the lagoon part of the reserve from land for the first time.

 EcoGuards pose with the first illegal fishing gear they confiscated from the reserve after all the communities agreed not to fish there. Apparently the gear belonged to migrant fishermen from Mali, who were warned that they could not fish within the reserve, but who refused to remove their traps. The traps were destroyed.
In January cement blocks were made to anchor the reserve's new boundary marker buoys. Once they were ready they were brought by boat to the reserve...which is alot of work when you only have non-motorized canoes and the reserve is several miles away! 
 Guards getting ready to deploy the new buoys with the reserve

Toleu chief Niaga Boh participating in deploying the new boundary buoys!
 The buoys can be seen from at least 500 feet away, which will now make it easier to enforce Tocc Tocc Reserve regulations
 And residents like this Royal Tern already seem to be enjoying the buoys as well!
 Next up will be construction of the dock and two observation towers. Meanwhile Tomas and I continue to try to fund raise to create sustainable livelihoods for the hard-working EcoGuards. Stay tuned! 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Society of Marine Mammalogy conference, Dunedin, New Zealand

In early December I attended the biennial Society of Marine Mammalogy conference in New Zealand and presented the preliminary results of my (mitochondrial DNA) genetics work in a spoken presentation as well as a scientific poster. It was fun to finally be able to share some of the results of all these past years of work, and to be able to show how I'm beginning to identify distinct manatee populations across Africa. My hope is that once populations are defined and their genetic diversity is known, that it will help to direct conservation and management efforts and funding towards the most critical places and populations. To see a pdf of my poster, see Links on the right side of this page (you can zoom in on the image to enlarge it).
My project was also able to sponsor travel costs for Aristide Kamla from Cameroon, who also gave a spoken presentation at the Sirenian Workshop before the conference, as well as a poster during the main conference. Aristide also received an award from the SMM International Student Committee that covered his lodging and registration costs at the conference. He did a great job with his presentations and had a lot of interest from other researchers in the Society in his work.
Here Aristide explains the stranding network that he initiated in coastal Cameroon to Dr. Randy Wells, a dolphin expert from Florida.
My colleague Maggie Hunter also presented a poster on work we've just started, with a new marker using coding and non-coding DNA to provide perspective on the divergence of all the Trichechids (the three species of manatees).  Exon-priming intron-crossing (EPIC) primers have been shown to accurately identify species and subspecies in cryptic populations. We hope that this method will give us much greater insight into how the living manatee species evolved.
I'd like to thank all my funders, who make this research and conference participation possible!