Friday, December 17, 2010

Senegal Manatee Rescue Video

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 wrap-up (for now)

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.

I'm also extremely grateful to have a new partner in the Ministry of Water and Forestry! We are now working together to export the 9 tissue and bone samples I collected on this trip in order to start the first genetics analysis for the species from Mali. Below, Timbo and Tomas look over export regulations. These are more stingent than CITES because the species is fully protected in Mali. Since I left, Berthe has already collected another sample. So we're off and running!
New project webpage

The Save Our Seas Foundation, one of my funders, has created a new website for my African manatee work... check it out at 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

African Manatee Training Workshop in Djenne, Mali

(Sorry, I would've liked to have posted this earlier, but we are having constant power outages in Dakar!)

During the last week of November, I led a manatee research and conservation training workshop with 11 participants from 4 countries (Mali, Niger, Chad, and Ivory Coast) in Djenne, Mali. This is the first time I've run a workshop on my own, and some of it was modelled after the workshops I co-led in Ghana for the past 2 years. I'd like to give huge thanks to my husband Tomas, who greatly helped with many aspects of logistics and translation for this workshop, and offered participants his insight from his own manatee work in Senegal. Aside from lectures, we had a group discussion about fundraising for research in Africa, and most importantly, trips to the field for practical training on field sampling equipment use, village interview techniques and manatee survey techniques. Our workshop was held at the Hotel Dar Salaam in Djenne, a new hotel just a bit out of town. The staff there was great, the food delicious and the setting perfect for talkiing about manatees, since they had a carcass in Djenne last year. This is the front of the hotel, with local sheep passing by! We had 1-2 lectures each day on topics including manatee biology and evolution, research techniques, sample collection, and field equipment.
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.
Kouame from Ivory Coast had an example of a t-shirt his program has distributed there, urging people not to kill manatees.
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.
Thanks to all the participants for all your interest in manatee conservation! I look forward to hearing how your work progresses!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Mali: Sevare and Mopti

In mid-November we spent the Tabaski holiday in Sevare with our colleague Semega's sister and her family. After that we met up with Abdoulaye Guindo at his office. He's the Niger River Basin Authority manager here. Abdoulaye attended the training workshop I co-led in Ghana last year and it was good to see him again! He's hoping to start manatee research in this region.
Nearby, Mopti is a city that was originally built on 3 small islands at the junction where the Bani River joins the Niger. The whole city is surrounded by water and small Bozo fishing villages that seem to float on the surface. There's also a huge area of rice fields. We started out at the port and looked for fishermen to ask about manatees.
This is one of the Bozo villages just across from Mopti
Old town Mopti
Lots of good manatee habitat everywhere, but also lots of people
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.
These are some of the manatee samples I collected in Mopti... a vertebra and two pieces of dried tissue. Hopefully I'll be able to isolate DNA from these to learn about the population here and to determine if it is genetically isolated from coastal African manatee populations.
In Mopti's port I saw this boat with a flag that said "From here 2 Timbuktu" and wished I could hop aboard! Timbuktu is about a four day boat ride up the inland Niger delta. I think it would be an interesting trip sometime, but on this day I needed to get ready for the training workshop I was leading the following week.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Conservationists Working to Protect Endangered African Manatees:

Click here to view this article on manatees in Senegal!