News / Africa

Conservationists Working to Protect Endangered African Manatees

A manatee is rescued in Senegal, Nov 2010
A manatee is rescued in Senegal, Nov 2010
Amanda Fortier

Conservationists in West Africa are working with local fishermen to protect endangered African manatees, which are an important part of both the environment and local folk lore.

The distinctive sound can be heard of a manatee - a torpedo-shaped marine animal that lives in the Caribbean, South America and along the coast, rivers and wetlands of over 20 African countries.

While very little is known about the numbers of African manatees, they are the most threatened. Some fishing communities hunt them for meat, hides and bones.

Elusive creatures

That has put the African manatee on the United Nations red list of endangered species. Lucy Keith Diagne, a scientist with the American-based EcoHealth Alliance, has been tracking manatees for more than 10 years.

"In Africa, they are the least-studied large animal," said Diagne. "I think part of that is they are very mysterious. They live in murky water and extremely remote places. Most people see them dead or in a stew-pot, unfortunately."

Manatees migrate and are generally shy, solitary creatures. They also are slow breeders. They mate about every two years and have only one calf at a time.

Their rare sightings have, in part, made the manatees something of an enigma. Among some fishing communities, they are even creatures to be feared.

Mystical animal

El Ali Haida is director at l'Oceanium, an environmental non-profit group based in Dakar. Haida said the manatee is a very mystical animal. In the villages of Casamance, the hunters must wear many different talismans and perform a ritual that can last up to two hours before they even dare to hunt the manatee.

Diagne said the spirit that supposedly lives in the manatee is called Mamiwata.

"I find it fascinating that in many different cultures the manatee is always a mermaid. Here in Africa, mamiwata means lots of different things, in lots of different countries. In Gabon, it is a beautiful young woman who pulls men underneath the water and takes them to her lair - never lets them free. Basically, I think it is an explanation for fishermen who drown - they just never come home to their families," said Diagne.

"In Nigeria, mamiwata is a very positive thing. If she takes you to her lair and then she releases you later, then your family will be prosperous for life. Totally different end of the perspective, mamiwata is another name for prostitute in Cameroon," said Diagne. "There are very few places, though, where the legend translates to the real animal in the sense that people respect it enough not to kill it."

Financial gain

For those who actively hunt the manatee, Haida said the financial benefits can be huge. The meat from one manatee can weigh as much as 500 kilograms. When sold at market for $2 per kilogram that is a lot of money in a poor country like Senegal.

The manatees are protected by national laws in every country where they are found. And yet, the lack of enforcement and education means the numbers of manatees are still believed to be decreasing.

Momar Sow oversees a manatee conservation project across six West African countries with the non-profit group Wetlands.

"Fortunately, in Senegal, Gambia and Guinea, they have a traditional respect for these species," said Sow. "It is very rare to find young hunters. Most of them are old. There has been a degradation of traditional rules given to young boys. This is a luck for us. They didn't disseminate the tradition of how to kill manatee."

Protecting biodiversity

Bienvenue Sambo is a professor and researcher at the Institute for Science and the Environment at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar. He said African manatees are an important part of biodiversity.

If the manatees are lost, Sambo said there will be a gap in the ecosystem. We don't know the virtues of every species, he said, so if we want to keep ourselves in the realm of sustainability, we need to protect them.

In the developing world, Sambo said, it is hard to convince someone who does not have enough to eat that they should help preserve a species for future generations.

L'Oceanium is protecting 22 manatees in the southern Casamance region, and is working with other communities to build ecotourism sights where tourists pay to see manatees in the wild.

Haida said if the environment allows people to make money, then they will have incentive to protect their environment.

You May Like

Israelis Quietly Expand Enclave in Palestinian District of Jerusalem

Estimated 500 settlers, armed or protected by paramilitary police, live in Silwan among 50,000 Palestinians More

Video US, Iran Face Similar Challenges in Syrian Fight Against IS

Both Washington, Tehran back fighters battling Islamic State militants in Iraq -- but in Syria they support opposing sides in country’s civil war More

China Boosts Efforts to Help Afghan, Regional Stability

Observers say China’s increased regional involvement are due to concerns that Afghan instability and the presence of anti-China militants in Pakistani border areas could fuel Xinjiang troubles More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Lawi
X
William Ide
October 20, 2014 10:23 AM
China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Nigeria Agrees to Cease-Fire With Boko Haram

Islamist militant group Boko Haram and the Nigerian government have agreed to a cease-fire. The Nigerian government issued an order Friday, telling all military chiefs "to comply with the cease-fire agreement in all theaters of operations. Why now and the significance of the agreement are questions on some people’s minds. VOA's Mariama Diallo reports.
Video

Video Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

The offensive by Islamic State militants against the northern Syrian city of Kobani has caused hundreds of thousands of residents to flee to Turkey. They receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from the town of Suruc a few kilometers from the border.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.

All About America

AppleAndroid