Mamiwata is an African name for a spirit believed to be embodied by the manatee. This blog chronicles my search for the elusive African manatee, and my exploration to understand its biology, habitat and preservation needs, economic and cultural significance. So little is known about this animal, yet it is intensely hunted almost everywhere it exists and may already be gone from much of its previous range. In 2006 I was inspired to go find and study them, starting in Gabon.
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.