Manatees become conservation symbol for communities in Mexico
December 1, 2008
Local conservation efforts are helping protect endangered manatees in Chiapas, Mexico, report researchers writing in the December issue of Tropical Conservation Science.
Conducting surveys of local communities and recording manatee sightings in the Catazajá wetlands of northeast Chiapas, Jenner Rodas-Trejo and colleagues mapped the progress on conservation efforts in an ecosystem that is increasingly rare in Mexico due to transformation for cattle ranching, oil exploration, and human settlement. The researchers found hopeful signs that locals are changing practices harmful to the marine mammal and even actively promoting conservation of the species. The new sentiment is reflected by the elevation of the manatee as a community symbol.
"Since 2001, we have gradually involved the local communities in the conservation of
manatees and the wetland ecosystem. Local people participation has been gradual and
more recently accelerated," write the authors. "While still in progress, tangible outcomes of community
involvement in conservation are the following: protection by the local community of
manatee preferred gathering areas in the wetland is gaining strength, hunting of manatees
is now almost non existent, local people trained by us now assist in keeping track of
manatee sightings and local community members actively become involved in the rescue of
stranded individuals. Importantly, the manatee has now become the animal emblem for the
communities in the study area. A manatee festival is held once a year, with
intensive participation by local inhabitants, including adults of all ages and school children."
The authors note that authorities have responded to the growing interest among locals by declaring 41,058 ha of the Catazajá wetlands a natural protected area in November 2006. The decree was followed by incorporation of the wetlands as a RAMSAR site in Feburary 2008 and designation as a natural protected area category IV by the
International Union on the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) of the United Nations.
"The area under protection encompasses 41,058 ha of the
Catazajá wetlands and it includes most of the segments of the wetlands where we have
obtained records of presence and activity of manatees," write the authors.
Rodas-Trejo, J., Romero-Berny, E. I. and Estrada, A. 2008. Distribution and conservation of the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus) in the Catazajá wetlands of northeast Chiapas, México. Tropical Conservation Science Vol.1 (4):321-333