Friday, December 17, 2010
Click here: Navel Rescue video
This video is from the rescues we did in January 2009 at Navel in eastern Senegal but the video was only posted online a few months ago. Better late than never! There were many agencies involved, as listed in the description. I provided the satellite tags and tagging expertise to this project. These rescues continue on an annual basis (although on a much smaller scale with only 2 manatees needing rescue last year, as opposed to 7 in 2009). I hope to tag manatees in the Senegal River again in the future, because we still have so much to learn about how they survive in this Sahelian ecosystem.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Mali is a very important place to study the West African manatee because this population is isolated thousands of miles inland from their coastal relatives. As the photo above shows (courtesy of Google Earth), the inland Niger delta is a huge wetland that nourishes an otherwise extremely arid desert region. Manatees here were naturally isolated once they colonized this area however many years ago (possibly literally millions of years ago!), since the species does not migrate thousands of miles. As they slowly moved into this area over time, they stayed. But now the construction of dams in this region has permenently separated them from other populations downriver. As in other African countries with large dams (Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria) this makes protecting the species that much more urgent. There are also manatees in western Mali in the Senegal River (and possibly the 2 tributaries that form it, the Bafing and the Baoule) but these too are locked into the Senegal River by the Menantali dam in Mali, and the Diama dam at the mouth of the Senegal River.
So I'm very happy that there are people in multiple agencies in Mali who want to work to study and conserve manatees. At the workshop we had representatives from the Ministry of Water and Forestry, the Niger River Basin Authority, and the Niger River Department of Fisheries, and regional people came from many locations along the river: Kangaba at the border with Guinea; San in the southern portion; Sofara, Mopti, and Djenne in the inland delta. Malian interest in manatees is not new, as shown by this old poster I saw in several offices around the country (although the artist clearly used a photo of a Florida manatee, rather than a more slender African manatee, as his inspiration!)
But so far there have been only brief surveys here. Now I hope these folks can initiate longer term monitoring and research to really understand the size and needs of the population, the effects of dams, and illegal poaching (particularly where it's most prevalent at the north end of the delta). And as we discussed, hopefully they'll provide training for additional people, including colleagues in the northern part of the river at Timbuktu and Gao.
I appreciated the opportunity to work one on one with Berthe in San and Abdoulaye in Mopti (below), and look forward to hearing their future progress, which I'll report on this blog. It takes alot of self-motivation to keep going when you have limited resources, other work, etc. so I'll keep trying to support their efforts via the regional network.
The Save Our Seas Foundation, one of my funders, has created a new website for my African manatee work... check it out at http://saveourseas.com/projects/manatees_ga. Right now it's in somewhat of a first draft form because we're waiting to add photos of West African manatees (coming soon I hope!), there will be a link to this blog, and hopefully other info in the future.
I really appreciate the opportunity to continue raising awareness about the "unknown" manatees. I am determined to change that!
Monday, December 06, 2010
The first day we went over environmental sampling equipment such as GPS units, depth sounders, salinity meters, and other basic tools the participants will need to record the manatee's habitat in their home countries.
This was our boat (or "pinasse" in the local French) for field outings. It was nice to have a cover from the hot sun.
On our first field trip participants learned how to use field sampling equipment. In this photo Berthe from San, Mali uses the GPS.
We had two different types of depth sounders, this one (being tested by Boureima from Niger) also records water and air temperature as well as detecting animals moving below the water's surface. Timbo from the Dept. of Water and Forestry in Mali checks the reading on the other type of depth sounder.
I sponsored three participants from outside Mali, including Wachoum from Chad (looking through binocs), Kouame from Ivory Coast (middle) and Boureima from Niger.
On our first and second outings we also went to local villages so participants could practice manatee interview techniques. The Bozo people are the fishermen in this area and they have alot of local knowledge about manatees.
In the interview at the village of Syndaga, Diakite of the Water and Forestry Ministry from Djenne (on left) led the questions with village elders. They see manatees in this area year round and explained mating herds by a story calling it a "manatee wedding" where the manatees gather to celebrate a bride and groom.
At the end of the interview some of the villagers wanted to have a photo with our group. People here recognized the local workshop participants that were from Djenne, which greatly helped us gain their trust for the interview.
Participants also gave lectures about manatee research in their country. Here Boureima discusses his research in W National Park in Niger (so named because the Niger River forms a "W" in this area).
I also led the group in a discussion of manatee necropsy techniques. We didn't have an actual manatee carcass for demonstration, so for measurements we used an inflatable orca (I was unable to locate an inflatable manatee so this was as close as I could get. If anyone knows where I can get a manatee for future training use, please let me know!)
Practicing girth measurements...
During breaks and free time participants had lots of opportunities to talk about their work and what they hope to achieve in their countries.
I'd like to thank my colleagues in Mali who assisted in setting up the workshop: Semega and Guindo from Niger River Basin Authority, and Timbo from the Ministry of Water and Forestry.
This is most of the group on the last day, after I handed out donations of field equipment (one set for each country, hopefully I can fund more in the future) to help their manatee data collection. The money for this equipment was made possible by generous grants from several funders.
Thursday, December 02, 2010
All around Mopti is still flooded from the rainy season
While driving to one fishing village we stopped at the edge of the river to see the confluence of the Bani and Niger Rivers. We ended up talking to this fisherman (on the right) who told us people see manatees traveling by and feeding on grass along shore in this area, particularly at night. He knew of a village further upriver where manatees are supposedly quite tame and approach people in the river. I wished we had time to go there, but at least Abdoulaye got the name so he can go check it out later. The guy also told us the Bozo people have a legend that when the water dries up, the manatee turns into a turtle!
Later we met with elders from 2 other Bozo villages. They told me manatees are not hunted here because people know they'll get in trouble if they're caught, but further north (closer to Timbuktu) people still regularly hunt them. People here are fascinated by them.
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
Thursday, November 18, 2010
On Tuesday morning we drove out of a smoke-filled Bamako as everyone began preparing to cook their sheep for the Tabaski holiday the following day. Once we left the city the air cleared and we drove through an area of very cool rock formations, then into a zone of lush forest, then finally into a Sahelian scrub landscape that became drier the further north we went. After several hours we crossed the Bani River, one of the largest tributaries of the Niger River. The Bani is created from two other rivers, the Baoule and the Bagoe, which flow from the mountains of Ivory Coast to the south. It still feels odd to me that rivers flow to the north here.
After lunch in Segou we stopped at the town of San, where we had arranged to meet Mr. Berthie who works for the Niger River Basin Authority in that area. We met him at his house and were also joined by another man who is the son of the local "water chief". After drinking the customary cup of tea, we set off in a four wheel drive through miles of flooded rice fields, driving on the top of narrow dikes and dodging donkey carts piled high with hay.
After about 10km we reached a village called Sokon at the edge of the Bani River. The village is in a fairly remote area and it was important to us because the people here report that they regularly see manatees. When we arrived we first met with the chief to say hello and explain our interest in manatees. He was an older man who assigned a younger man from the village to give us a tour near the river's edge. As we walked to the river we passed this traditional mosque which I thought was neat. The rainy season ended about a month ago so the waters that flooded a huge plain are now receding back to the river. We learned that just as the Senegal River floods a huge area and the manatees swim onto the floodplain to feed on the grasses and trees, the same thing happens here. People see large groups, mating herds and babies. They estimated the largest group was about 20 manatees. During the dry season the locals told us they know of three deep holes in the river where the manatees stay. They can only be reached by boat and we didn't have time to go that day, but hopefully Mr. Berthie will follow up with this. There are no manatee hunters in the village but they did have some manatee bones which they consider sacred; the cheif told us manatee bones have magic.
We also found some freshwater mollusk shells but no one knew if the manatees eat them as they do in other places. Another mystery to solve!
Monday, November 15, 2010
This is the office of the Niger River Basin Authority, where Alfousseini works. They are very interested in manatee conservation and research.
We also went to the zoo, where they used to have 2 captive manatees which unfortunately died awhile back (causes of death are unclear, but my sense is that unfortunately they didn't know how to properly care for them). This is the sign near the pool where they kept them. We were told that people flocked to the zoo to see them, because they are so fascinated by such a mysterious creature and opportunities to see one are so rare.
We also saw the National Museum of Art, the presidential palace and gardens, the conservatory of music and many busy markets! It's just a few days before the Muslim holiday Tabaski, so the markets are crazy with shoppers buying food, new clothes and other supplies. We went to the market to check out the "fetish" stands, which are the vendors selling animal parts, usually for traditional medicine or religious purposes. Although I find looking at piles of dead animals (and particularly wildlife) depressing, I've found I learn alot from these stands in the sense that you can tell how prevalent certain species are in a country by their presence or absence in the market, and you can also tell how stringently (or not) the laws are enforced by the willingness of vendors to talk about or show you that they have certain species. Here in Bamako manatee bones and parts were not seen, and most vendors either didn't know what a manatee was or didn't have any. Sometimes they are reluctant to talk to a white person, so Tomas went back without me and was able to see a couple manatee bones. But overall this market had much less wildlife than others I've seen.
Then we met with the head of the wildlife protection section. He plans to attend the training workshop in Djenne so we mostly talked logistics.
After that we stopped by the Ministry of Environment to say hello to several officials. Phew! Now it's time to pack because we leave for Mopti early tomorrow morning.