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 surrounding shoreline, filled with water lilies and other aquatic plants that make a perfect year round buffet for the manatees that live there. Although the reserve has existed for a few years, we have now secured the funds to hire and train staff to monitor manatees year round, to collect scientific data such as genetics samples to help us understand this previously unstudied population, and to enforce the protection regulations agreed upon by the communities. The 20 EcoGuards were hired from within the five villages surrounding the reserve, they’ve lived there all their lives, and are very enthusiastic to protect this area and its wildlife for the future. Over the past two years we have been able to outfit the reserve staff with a boat with a trolling motor to patrol the reserve, environmental monitoring equipment, a motor scooter to patrol the land portion of the reserve, uniforms and other necessary field supplies. We have also provided training so that staff can identify the plants that manatees eat, record sightings and evidence of manatee feeding, disentangle manatees caught in fishing nets (a common problem in Lac de Guiers, but no longer in the reserve since the communities agreed to stop all fishing there) and collect biological samples from rescued manatees to aid our understanding of their life history. Monitoring activities will also benefit the other wildlife in the reserve, including the endemic Adanson’s Mud Turtle, many species of water birds, reptiles, and fish.
Our project also coordinated a community meeting held on July 2 for representatives and leaders from all five surrounding villages to agree upon the refuge rules. These include ceasing all fishing inside the reserve (all fishing nets have been removed and no new ones are allowed), as well as not allowing livestock grazing on reserve lands (which is important to keep the habitat undisturbed). We are thrilled the communities all agreed to these changes so readily, especially when we know it could impact their livelihoods! We hope to expand eco-tourism activities (particularly guided tours and canoe/kayak rentals) and eventually to build an education center. We hope Tocc Tocc Reserve will serve as a model across Africa for sustainable livelihoods that protect manatees.