Wednesday, March 21, 2012

But Wait, There's More!

Just after I posted previous blog about Dawda's training, I received a few more photos that should really be included.

Dawda spent part of his time at Crystal River snorkeling with manatees, which he really enjoyed because this just isn't possible in Africa (primarily because African manatees are too scared to stay anywhere near people, but also due to lack of water clarity, and the fact that people mostly don't swim in Africa, because there are lots of dangerous things in the water!). It also gave him his first chance to see the behavior of wild manatees, which is an incredibly valuable experience for someone who is trying to study them. (Photos courtesy of Samantha Hook)
Also, near the end of Dawda's trip he got together with my mentor and boss Buddy Powell (who spent time studying manatees in the Gambia in the 1990's) to share experiences and discuss the current status of manatees there. Buddy supported part of Dawda's trip to Florida. Pictured here are Buddy, Dawda and Sea to Shore's executive assistant extraordinaire, Susan!
Congratulations again to Dawda, on the successful completion of his training!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Training for Dawda

Following upon the success of Aristide Kamla's training in Florida in November, Dawda Saine of the Gambia arrived in early February for three weeks of advanced manatee training. Dawda worked for two years to raise the funds for his trip and to get the appropriate visa to come to the USA. My project grants helped sponsor his training, and he also received a separate stipend from Sea to Shore Alliance and a funding award from the University of Florida. In Gambia Dawda is the Executive Secretary of the National Association of Artisanal Fisheries Operators (NAAFO), and his passion is to get community-based manatee research and conservation started in his country. His primary goal for his training was to gain more experience in manatee necropsy techniques so that he can collect samples from West African manatees, and teach the techniques to others in his country. Most of his work took place at the FWC Marine Mammal Pathobiology Lab (MMPL) in St. Petersburg, although he traveled to several other parts of Florida while he was here.

One of the first days he after he arrived, Dawda was able to attend and participate in a release of 3 rehabilitated Florida manatees at Crystal River. He was impressed at the number of people involved in caring for injured manatees in Florida. Dawda also helped MMPL staff at an educational outreach even in Crystal River the following day. He also spent several days working with captive manatees at Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park. (Photo courtesy of WTXL News)
Then it was time to get started on necropsy training. Here Trevor of MMPL briefs Dawda on how they will conduct the necropsy. (Photo courtesy of FWC)
There are standard measurements taken on every manatee. Here Dawda takes the umbilical girth measurement with Claire and Anna... (Photo courtesy of FWC)
MMPL also occasionally receives other marine mammals, so Dawda also got to assist with the necropsy of a Bottlenose dolphin. (Photo courtesy of FWC)
Near the end of his trip Dawda helped MMPL staff rescue an injured manatee in northern Florida, which he said was a great experience. He's right there in the middle of the boat, pulling the manatee onboard in a net! (Photo courtesy of FWC)
Work hard, play hard! Dawda joined lunchtime games at MMPL. (Photo courtesy of FWC)
Dawda also traveled to Gainesville where I gave him a tour of the USGS Sirenia Project facilities and he gave a lecture about manatees in the Gambia at the Veterinary College at UF. Click here to see and hear Dawda's lecture (scroll down to February 15):
While he was in Gainesville I also took Dawda to the Florida Natural History Museum so he could see the amazing fossil display, including the dugongs and manatees that lived in the Caribbean millions of years ago.
My project grants also provided basic field equipment for Dawda that will help him collect accurate data during his field surveys in the Gambia River. It's hard to adequately express how much this basic equipment helps researchers like Dawda, who have so much dedication and enthusiasm, but just need basic tools to be able to get started.
I also want to extend a HUGE thanks to the staff of MMPL for all their enthusiasm and excitement to help train African researchers! I appreciate everything you do to make these guys feel welcome and to give them such valuable training experiences. Shown here: Anna, Brandon, Kane, Dawda, Donna, Amber, Martine, Trevor & Andy. (Photo courtesy of FWC)
Dawda has now returned home, and I look forward to reporting his progress in the field!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Fingers crossed

Several West African countries have submitted a proposal to CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) to raise the West African manatee to Appendix I, which will hopefully provide more protection for the species, and would stop the trade in live manatees captured for aquaria in Asia. I've spent the last 2 weeks working with the great staff at Species Survival Network on edits and corrections to the proposal and am now very happy with the version that has been submitted. If you'd like to check it out, click here (warning: it's only in French so far, but hopefully there will be an English version soon). Next week the proposal will be introduced at the CITES Animal Committee meeting in Geneva, and if recommended it will go on to the full Conference of Parties meeting next year. So we will have to keep our fingers crossed for quite awhile, but here's hoping it works!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Southwest Florida

This past week I spent some time in Southwest Florida and gave a lecture on West African manatee research to the staff at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton. While there I also got a chance to visit with Snooty, the world's oldest known manatee (he's 64 years old!), who I last saw 9 years ago. He's much bigger than his West African cousins. Thanks to everyone at the museum for a great visit!
I also stopped by Mote Aquarium in Sarasota to pick up copies of a fantastic new reference book, Ecology and Conservation of the Sirenia, by Helene Marsh, Tom O'Shea and John Reynolds. Many sirenian researchers, including myself, worked with the authors for several years to provide the best available data on the manatee species we work with. The authors have very generously donated 14 copies for public libraries in Africa, where I'm sure they will be of great use to manatee researchers. I plan to begin distributing them to the libraries when I return to Africa later this spring.