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 last winter for advanced training in manatee necropsy and other field techniques, and now he wants to build a network for manatee research in the Gambia. He is an enthusiastic collaborator, and I was very grateful for all his help in coordinating all the local logistics for the workshop.
The first two days focused on lectures on manatee biology, fieldwork/survey techniques and sample collection. I included interactive activities such as practicing standard manatee measurements. The lack of a real manatee to practice on didn’t stop us, we used an inflatable orca pool toy. Even though it’s not the real thing, having the opportunity to practice measurements on a 3D scale gives the trainees a much better understanding of how to accurately take the measurements in the correct standardized way. We talked about the realities of doing a necropsy (because manatees are heavy and hard to maneuver if you’ve never done it before!). We also discussed the use and care of field equipment. On the last day of the workshop we took a boat out on Tanbi Reserve, a protected mangrove habitat area near Banjul. Everyone had the chance to practice using the field equipment, to collect environmental data, and to look for manatee feeding sign on plants along the shore. We also visited several freshwater springs where manatees have been sighted in the past, but didn’t see any (not surprising because we were there at mid-day and manatees here are mostly seen at dawn, dusk, and night). The goal this field trip was primarily to focus on the skills trainees will use when they conduct their own surveys, so it was a success. My project also provided the team with a set of field equipment, including a depth sounder and other environmental sampling tools so they’ll be able to begin fieldwork. I hope to return for future training and look forward to seeing the manatee network in the Gambia grow!