Lessons Learned from a Lost Manatee

Manatee 1

© Paul Rodrigue 2015

Currently we are at the end of the first year of our project titled Assessing the distribution and threats on the West African manatee in Cameroon. The project is supervised by Aristide Kamla, and its aim is to improve the knowledge of the ecology and health of the West African manatee in Cameroon through field based research, building of sighting network with local fishermen, and partnering and engaging with private and state conservations organizations in order to develop and implement conservation strategies and policies for this species.

On May 5th 2015 a manatee calf was accidentally caught by a nylon fishing net in Lake Ossa. The manatee was entangled and could not breathe. Our local network member in this area, who owns the nets, reported the information to the Conservation service and to African Marine Mammal Conservation Organization (AMMCO) the same morning he found the calf. With the support of the conservation service of the lake Ossa Wildlife Reserve, we have conducted a necropsy and morphometric measurement on the carcass.

Manatee 2

© Paul Rodrigue 2015

The entangled individual was a calf measuring 1.22 meter long, weighting about 60 kg.  We collected the following samples for biological analysis: blood, tissue, ear bones, stomach contents, and skull. We also used the carcass to sensitize students in a nearby primary and nursery school about the important role of manatees in the environment.  The administration staff of Government Bilingual High School Dizangue allocated us 30 minutes per classroom per month to deliver environmental education courses to students. We have created and distributed a course manual focusing on environment in general and on the African manatee in particular.

Manatee 4

© Paul Rodrigue 2015

Over the last 12 months we have also achieved the following:

We have extended and strengthened the existing marine mammal sighting and stranding network on the Cameroon coast by training and engaging with 14 additional local fishermen. Some of the selected fishermen were equipped with built-in Cameras and GPS and/or waterproof Cameras with built-in GPS as tool for reporting sightings and stranding. So far, more than 100 manatees sighting were reported in our database.

To increase the community awareness and sensitize local fishers and students on African manatees, we have conceived, printed, and distributed a series of seven different posters with clear illustrations and short messages on the ecological importance of African manatee and Cameroon’s laws regarding the species.

Manatee 3

© Paul Rodrigue 2015

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