Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Gabon bound

I'm flying to Gabon on Thursday, my first trip there since 2011. After a short stay in Libreville to get my permits and have some meetings, I'll be heading to Lambaréné in the interior. I haven't spent time in Lambaréné since 2006 and it's an important place as the unfortunate center of manatee hunting for Gabon. Lambaréné sits on the mighty Ogooue River and lies west of a chain of large lakes where it is believed there is a large manatee population. There are manatee specialist hunters in the area who provide the market in Lambaréné with fresh manatee meat almost year round, and there's basically little if any enforcement to stop the illegal trade. There is lots of other bushmeat in the market there as well, and some effort is starting to try to crack down on some of the sale of protected species, primarily elephants and primates. Hopefully the government can someday be persuaded to enforce the laws for all protected species, but I think I'll wait many more years to see that happen.

I'm going there to lead a manatee research and conservation training workshop for biologists from several local organizations. Two Cameroonian manatee biologists will also join the workshop. My other mission is to try to collect manatee samples for genetics analysis, so that we can begin to understand this population for the first time. By having more trained biologists documenting manatee occurrence in the surrounding area and the amount of meat coming into the market, as well as sampling carcasses when they can, hopefully we'll be able to learn about the size, genetic diversity and other biological attributes of this population (their diet, their age structure, etc.). The hope is that the information can be given to the government and other organizations trying to end hunting as documentation.

Anyway, I'm packing now and have 30 hours of flights ahead of me before I get there, but I'll post more once I arrive!   

Monday, August 05, 2013

SMM Travel Awards

Some good news for the start of the week:

I received notification from the Society for Marine Mammalogy that I've received a student travel award to attend their conference in New Zealand next December. I'll present some of my African manatee genetics dissertation work as a poster, and I also hope to give a talk at the Sirenian Workshop before the conference.

Also, my colleague Aristide Kamla from Cameroon, who has started his country's first marine mammal stranding network and is applying to PhD programs to continue his studies of manatee in Cameroon, has received an award from the Society for Marine Mammalogy's International Relations Committee to support his attendance for the same conference by paying his accommodation expenses and registration fees.

Thanks to generous funding by my USFWS and IUCN/Save Our Species grants, our airfares to this conference will also be covered.