Thursday, October 22, 2015

Manatee Calf Rescued in Nigeria

 On October 9 our colleague Dr. Edem Eniang rescued  a 2-3 week old manatee calf that had been caught in a fishing net by hunters. The hunters had kept the calf in a well for 3 days and were planning to eat it, so the timing of the rescue was very lucky! This is the calf in the well... if you look closely you can see a small turtle above its nose.
Unfortunately, there was no way to release the calf back to the wild. There were too many manatee hunters and nets in the area, and no adult manatees had been seen. A calf as young as this would not be able to survive for long without its mother. Although we don't know yet how long African manatee calves nurse from their Moms, it could be as long as for their cousins the Florida manatees- 2 years. Dr. Eniang brought the calf back to his house, took some measurements and its weight, and placed it in his fish pond. He then contacted me to ask how to care for it, and we began searching for an aqaurium that can raise the calf and provide it proper veterinary care.
The pool has now been filled with plants, which the calf is eating (we think African manatees may start eating plants much sooner than Florida manatees) and Edem and his graduate students are feeding the calf a special milk formula developed for baby manatees.
We are grateful to our friends at the Manatee Conservation Center in Puerto Rico and my graduate student Jonathan Perez (who helped raise Victor, the orphan manatee in Gabon, a few years ago) for two care packages sent to Nigeria with bottles & special calf nipples, milk powder and vitamins.
We also started looking for a long-term home for the calf. Unfortunately there are no public aquariums in Nigeria that have the ability to care for a manatee, but within two days we had heard from 5 aquariums around the world who offered to take the calf. We chose the facility we believe will best be able to care for the calf, while also contributing to African manatee education on the African continent. We're now in the process of obtaining the correct permits for the calf, and once that's done we can announce the facility.

In the meantime I'm traveling to Nigeria next week to help Edem care for the calf and to meet with officials to discuss the transfer of the calf to its new home. I'll write more as I travel! 

New Home for the African Manatee Project

We are very excited to announce that the African Manatee Project has joined forces with the African Chelonian Institute and formed a new non-profit organization for research, conservation, and education of all African manatees and turtle species! We are now the African Aquatic Conservation Fund. Our mission:

Through focused research, conservation, and education actions, the African Aquatic Conservation Fund is dedicated to the preservation of African manatees, turtles, and other aquatic wildlife and their habitats throughout the African continent. We work in close partnership with local people, scientists, governments, and other stakeholders for the benefit of both wildlife and humans. 
Our website is coming soon, but for now please check us out on Facebook!

Friday, October 09, 2015


For the past month I've been having trouble posting pictures on this blog, but today I finally fixed the problem! So here's another very overdue post....

Last June, before I went to Gabon for the MENTOR training workshop, I made my first trip to Cameroon. I've been working with two very energetic manatee researchers there, Aristide and Rodrigue, for several years now and was very happy to fionally get there! We started out at their main study site, Lake Ossa in southern Cameroon. This is Rodrigue, on the porch of their office.
We did several surveys on the lake and were lucky enough to see over 10 manatees! This is amazing for Africa, where sightings are very few.
This is a photo of a manatee fleeing, it's very hard to get photos of them...
Fishermen in Lake Ossa have filled the lake with bamboo poles attached to traps used to catch small fish. The problem is that the bamboo causes silt to build up, making the lake shallower and less hospitable to manatees. The lake is a protected area, so Aristide and his group are trying to find ways to work with the fishermen so that the manatees continue to have enough good habitat, but the local community can still continue to fish there.
Aristide's organization, AMMCO, is working to understand where manatees spend their time in the lake, identify "hotspots" and manatee diet, and study water quality in different parts of the lake. Aristide is the first person in Africa to use side scanning sonar to detect manatees. It's an amazing technology that finally allows us to count the numbers of manatees in the murky chocolate milk water.
Water sampling probe
Aristide is also working on his PhD, and is studying manatee hormones to see if pregnancy can be determined. To do this he collects manatee feces (poop!) and then tests it for hormones.
I checked the poop for any signs of fish bones or mollusk shells, but these samples were 100% plants.
Rodrigue and Aristide's group have created 7 different public awareness posters to educate people that manatees are protected and hunting them is illegal. This one's my favorite- the manatee is saying (in French), "set me free, I'm not for dinner!"
After Lake Ossa we visited a coastal fishing village, Londji, where Aristide's stranding network is working with local fishermen who report live and dead stranded manatees and other marine mammals. We met with the fishermen to discuss their challenges and progress, and then they gave us a really nice tour of the beach and a mangrove forest. 
Finally, I traveled to the University of Dschang in western Cameroon, where I gave a talk about my PhD research to the Animal Ecology graduate students. They were, without a doubt, the most enthusiastic audience I've ever spoken to!
Group photo with the Animal Ecology Dept. after my talk. I look forward to future collaboration with this university.

MENTOR Manatee Team

Team MENTOR Manatee: Samuel, Aristide, Constant, Bridget, 
Cyrille, Pascal, Christy, and Rebecca (in costume)  
I'm very late in writing to announce an exciting new initiative that I've recently begun. Thanks to funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I'm leading a two year long fellowship training program for 8 Central African manatee biologists, called MENTOR Manatee. MENTOR (Mentoring for ENvironmental Training in Outreach and Resource conservation) is a signature initiative of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Without Borders Program to build the capacity of multidisciplinary teams of African conservationists who can work together to address complex conservation challenges. In addition to three training sessions over two years, the MENTOR Manatee participants have two team projects, as well as an individual African manatee project that they will complete over two years. The team projects focus on manatee hunting/bushmeat documentation and manatee education programs. Between workshops each fellow is expected to carry out a manatee bushmeat study and manatee education programs at sites in their home country. Fellows receive a stipend towards their individual projects and also receive field equipment and educational supplies. 

MENTOR Manatee officially began with the first group training session in Gabon in July. The 8 participants were selected for the program through a lengthy application process. They are a super enthusiastic group of five men and three women from Cameroon, Gabon, and Democratic Republic of the Congo.   

We started the first week of training off in Libreville, with lectures on conservation and education in Central Africa, given by Dr. Kate Abernethy (University of Stirling), Luc Mathot and staff (Conservation Justice), Marie Claire Paiz (The Nature Conservancy), Dr. Hugo Rainey (‎Central Africa Marine Program Director at Wildlife Conservation Society), Heather Arrowood (OELO), and Aimee Parnell (Green Butterfly Designs, she designed our African manatee education materials and programs).

For the second week, we moved to Lambarene, on the Ogooue River in Central Gabon, where each participant gave presentations about their conservation and research background and their MENTOR project proposals. With our partner organization OELO the group visited a local market and restaurants where manatee meat is sometimes sold (we didn't find any), and helped post a sign in the market about the African manatee's protected status. 
The team also met with students from high school nature clubs to talk about careers in conservation... 

The team spent the third and final week at Tsam Tsam, an ecotourism lodge on beautiful Lake Oguemoue. There we focused on team building activities and I met with each fellow individually to plan their project activities for the next 6 months. 
Afternoon hike to a nearby savannah... we saw signs of elephant, pangolin, and duikers

While at Tsam Tsam, we did several manatee surveys and visited a village of known manatee hunters, for the team to practice their interview skills.
By the end of three weeks, we had a very close and cohesive team! Now everyone is back in their home countries working on their projects. The next training workshop for the team will take place in Cameroon in April 2016. 

For more on our July training program, see the awesome blog written by our partner, OELO: