Project

Secrets of the African manatee

Species
  • Marine Mammals
Years funded
  • 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015
Status
  • Archived
Project type
  • Conservation
Description

Although they are found in 21 countries, African manatees are rare and incredibly secretive. Lucy is creating a network of collaborators to help her learn more about this forgotten sirenian and how to conserve it.

Secrets of the African manatee

Lucy Keith Diagne

Project leader
About the project leader
I’ve loved being by and in the ocean for as long as I can remember. I spent every summer of my childhood on beaches and riding waves in the north-eastern United States, and in my career I’ve been lucky enough to work at some of the most beautiful and remote beaches in the world. I’ve worked with penguins in Antarctica, Hawaiian monk seals on the atolls of the north-western Hawaiian islands, seals and dolphins in Maine, and manatees in Central America and some of the most spectacular places in western Africa. Although I am especially fascinated by marine mammals, I...
PROJECT LOCATION : West Africa
All news about this project
By Philippa Ehrlich, 11th January 2016
How the humble catfish is saving manatees
Manatee hunters are giving up their traps for a more sustainable alternative. Dunsin Bolaji, a Nigerian scientist, is saving African manatees in his country. He works with fishermen at Lekki Lagoon, south-east of Lagos, and has empowered them to farm catfish in return for giving…
By Lucy Keith Diagne, 23rd March 2015
Locating manatee populations in Africa
As part of my dissertation research, I have just completed a new genetics study that defines for the first time African manatee populations across their large range (21 countries). Over eight years I collected 78 manatee tissue samples from eight countries and successfully isolated DNA…
By Lucy Keith Diagne, 28th October 2014
African Manatees Are Omnivores!
There’s a good reason manatees are also known as Sea Cows. They’re often seen feeding in seagrass beds or along the banks of rivers, much as cows graze meadows on land. The Florida manatee, the most studied species, is believed to be a strict herbivore…
By Lucy Keith Diagne, 11th March 2014
Aquaculture in Nigeria as an Alternative Livelihood to Manatee Hunting
It’s surprising that there are any manatees left in Lekki Lagoon, which is located ~63 km east of Africa’s largest city, Lagos, Nigeria (population 21 million!). Manatees are heavily hunted there and with the proximity of so many people, I’m astounded they still survive. A…
By Lucy Keith Diagne, 22nd September 2013
African Manatee Training Workshop in Lambarene, Gabon
The most recent African manatee training workshop was held in Lambarene, Gabon, from September 2-6. Lambarene sits at the edge of the largest river in Gabon, the Ogooue. Downstream from Lambarene are several very large lakes, lots of smaller ones and a quite a few…
By Lucy Keith Diagne, 31st July 2013
A Community-based Reserve in Northern Senegal Protects and Studies the African Manatee
The African manatee project has been working at Tocc Tocc Community Reserve at Lac de Guiers in northern Senegal, outfitting and training the reserve’s new EcoGuards (the African equivalent of park rangers). The reserve is a 275 hectare portion of Lac de Guiers and the…
By Lucy Keith Diagne, 21st March 2013
It’s Official! African Manatees are now on CITES Appendix I
Last week was a very big week for African manatees: the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) voted at their Conference of Parties in Bangkok, Thailand to uplist African manatees from Appendix II to Appendix I, a more protected status which will likely…
By Lucy Keith Diagne, 11th November 2012
Victor the orphan African manatee
On September 24, 2010 a live male West African manatee calf, approximately one month old, washed up on the beach in Mayumba, a very remote section of southern Gabon in central Africa. It is unknown where the manatee originated from, but evidence suggests he was…
By Lucy Keith Diagne, 21st September 2012
African Manatee Training Workshop in the Gambia
Recently I taught my first African manatee research training workshop in the Gambia. Seven participants attended: 6 from Gambia’s Parks and Wildlife Dept., as well as my colleague Dawda Saine who works for the Gambian National Association of Artisanal Fisheries Operators. Dawda came to Florida…
By Lucy Keith Diagne, 1st June 2012
West African Manatee Rescue in Senegal
Last week a West African manatee calf was rescued near a new community-based wildlife reserve at Lac de Guiers, in northern Senegal. The reserve, called Tocc Tocc, was established by Tomas Diagne, a Senegalese turtle and manatee reseacher, who worked together with local villages and…
By Lucy Keith Diagne, 28th March 2012
First age determination study for the West African manatee
One attribute that manatees share with sharks is their ability to replace their teeth throughout life. Manatee teeth move forward along their jaw as the older ones in front of them wear down and fall out (think of a conveyor belt from the back of…
By Lucy Keith Diagne, 3rd February 2012
Building a researcher network for the West African manatee
How do you study a highly secretive animal that lives in some of the remotest parts of Africa, in water that resembles chocolate milk? One answer is to train as many African researchers as possible to study them, from as many countries as possible. And…
Project details

African manatee research and conservation

Key objective

The key objective of this project is to build a network of trained African researchers from all range countries of the African manatee who will collect critical baseline data, enable grassroots conservation actions and disseminate research findings.

Why is this important

The African manatee is one of the least understood and least studied marine mammals in the world. Conservation efforts are hindered by a lack of basic information about the species and are also unsustainable without local capacity building.

Background

The African manatee Trichechus senegalensis is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species but without adequate information regarding African manatee populations, effective conservation actions are impossible, putting the species at even greater risk. The African manatee is highly elusive, lives in very remote locations and is subject to intense hunting pressure and habitat alteration throughout its range.

This project builds on on-going work to identify African researchers in all 21 countries in the African manatee’s range along the African Atlantic coast from Mauritania to Angola, as well as the interior countries of Mali, Niger and Chad to build a collaborative network. The project will provide training, fieldwork experience and basic equipment to local biologists, resource managers, and university- and graduate-level students, empowering them to advance scientific knowledge of this vulnerable species and increasing their long-term capacity for conservation in their countries. It will also improve communication between researchers and foster regional collaboration.
By building a cohesive network of people invested in manatee research, training researchers on the ground and genetic sampling at multiple field sites, this project will create a cadre of professionals who can lead future research, conservation and educational outreach initiatives tailored to the situation in their countries.

Aims & objectives

The ultimate goal is to train as many people as possible and remove their sense of isolation so they can successfully manage manatee populations in their countries, and effectively communicate their actions and results to the world audience. This will be achieved by:

  • Identifying collaborators from all countries in the African manatee’s range and continuing to build a network for manatee research.
  • Providing in-depth training in manatee field research techniques through workshops and practical experience at manatee study sites.
  • Assisting with the development of research plans tailored to specific countries or regions.
  • Providing basic field equipment, and training on its use and maintenance, to African collaborators in need.
  • Conducting baseline boat and interview surveys in selected river, lagoon and coastal sites to determine manatee presence, the impact of threats and suitable habitat. Interviews will ascertain biological, cultural and economic issues, and will help inform recommendations for conservation actions.
  • Conducting the first regional genetics analysis throughout the species range.
  • Collecting and analysing biological samples from live manatees and carcasses to understand the baseline health of wild populations.
  • Increasing the number of manatee-related outreach activities in range countries.
  • Communicating results with collaborators, governments and the scientific community. “