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

Video Protests Continue in Ferguson, Spread to Other US Cities

Missouri officials say deployment of more than 2,000 National Guard soldiers helps curb second night of rampant arson and looting in Midwestern town More

Video Ebola, Crackdown on Illegals Hit Business in Guangzhou

Chinese city has largest community of Africans in Asia More

Video Legendary Lebanese Actress, Singer Sabah Dies at 87

Music and film diva, affectionately called 'Sabbouha' by millions of her fans, performed at Carnegie Hall in New York, Royal Albert Hall in London, Olympia in Paris, Sydney Opera House in Sydney 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.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid