Project

Combining community and genetics for conservation in Cameroon

Species
  • Rays & Skates
  • Sharks
Years funded
  • 2021
Status
  • Active
Project types
  • Conservation
  • Research
Description

Aristide created a citizen science platform and mobile app for fishers across Cameroon’s 400 km coastline to record sightings of sharks, rays and marine life. These photos are uploaded to iNaturalist where they are identified and will serve to create Cameroon’s first elasmobranch atlas. Together with his team, Aristide ensures data are being uploaded, visits fish landing sites to assess bycatch and measure sharks, and scours the beaches to check for strandings and sea turtle nests. He collects tissue samples of threatened species in these visits that can give more insights into the diversity, population size and structure of vulnerable sharks.

Combining community and genetics for conservation in Cameroon

Aristide Takoukam Kamla

Project leader
About the project leader

A native Cameroonian, I was born in the coastal city of Douala and spent my childhood there. I enjoyed swimming with my friends despite my parents’ ban. I grew up in a social environment where all animals were perceived primarily as meat. My perception of wildlife changed during an ecology class of my Master’s programme, when I realised that wildlife species may go extinct if they are exploited unsustainably. I took the initiative to study one of them, the African manatee, in a protected area called Lake Ossa. It was my first encounter with a live animal species in the...

PROJECT LOCATION : Cameroon
Project details

Combining community and genetics for conservation in Cameroon

Key objective

In this project, we generate scientific data that will be used to inform policymakers on the status of elasmobranchs in Cameroon and convince them to enact legal protection. We also aim at making the local community aware of the conservation status of threatened species of sharks and rays.

Why is this important

Elasmobranchs are the most targeted aquatic megafauna in Cameroon, representing 97% of bycatch documented. They are poorly known. So far we have documented 33 species, of which 11 are Threatened including the extremely rare M. rochebrunei. However, none of these sharks are protected by Cameroon law. If nothing is done, some may disappear. We will use citizen science and genetic research to improve the knowledge of the species which will inform policies and management.

Background

In Cameroon, aquatic megafauna species are poorly known and mostly seen as a source of protein. Sharks and rays appear to be the most threatened, representing about 97% of the total megafauna bycatch along the coast of Cameroon. Until recently, it was not clear what species of elasmobranches are present along the coast of Cameroon. In 2015 Aristide initiated the SIREN Citizen Science project involving volunteer fishers who use the mobile SIREN mobile App to document opportunistic sighting and landing of aquatic megafauna along the coast. Through this initiative, we identified 33 species of elasmobranch among which 11 were listed as critically endangered, endangered, and vulnerable on the IUCN red list. Unfortunately, none of the species are legally protected in Cameroon, therefore, every year many fishers intentionally or unintentionally capture thousands of sharks and rays without being worried by the law. These animals are sold openly in various forms, fresh, frozen, or smoked. If nothing is done, the population of many of these species may disappear before they are studied.
We recently ‘rediscovered’ a mobula species we believe was Mobula rochebrunei, an extremely rare mobula that had not been documented since it was described (1960). To address this issue, we will improve the scientific knowledge of these species, which will be useful to orient conservation strategies. We will also increase the local awareness about elasmobranchs.  This work is a step to a broader project to establish community marine protected areas in coastal zones of Cameroon with high conservation value. Thus, the information from this study will be combined with those on other megafauna species of  Cameroon to derive a broader view of the value of conservation. The combined information will also be useful for the elaboration of a national coastal and marine management plan.

Aims & objectives

The aim of this project is to establish a central scientific knowledge and conservation of shark and ray populations along the coast of Cameroon while taking into consideration the interest of the local community. My team and I hope to achieve the following objectives to meet our goal:

  • Double the local capacity in generating quality and cost-effective data collectively on elasmobranchs on the Cameroon coast, which will contribute to the knowledge of the species.
  • Establish baseline scientific knowledge through the elaboration of the first comprehensive atlas of elasmobranchs of Cameroon and other scientific publications that will include the distribution, bycatch frequencies, sex ratio, and average body sizes.
  • Determine the genetic identity and population status of target species
  • Raise the national legal status of the threatened elasmobranchs species.
  • Improve the perception of the local population on the importance and conservation status of the threatened.