In the Lower Basin of the Sanaga River in Cameroon, near Lake Ossa and the Douala-Edea National Parks, manatees swim and float about like round, potato-shaped mermaids. This region is home to the West African manatee (Trichechus senegalensis), an aquatic mammal facing a decline in population. Classed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, the West African manatee is threatened by excessive kills, habitat loss, and habitat degradation. Given this, and the dearth of information about manatees, a group of Cameroon scientists have taken an ethnobiological approach (i.e. the interaction between people and wildlife) by employing skilled, knowledgeable locals to collect data on the manatees.
West African manatee in the Toba Aquarium, Japan. Photo by: Open Cage/Creative Commons 2.5
Researchers interviewed fishermen, shell collectors, and users of natural resources to assess the current conservation status of manatee in lakes, rivers, and coastal regions. Little is known about manatees, especially in Africa, as they live in dark and muddy waters. However, since the participating locals see manatee more often than scientists, they were asked whether manatees are still present in the Lower Sanaga Basin; whether the population has grown, decreased, or stayed the same in the last five years; and what are the main problems manatees face for their survival.
The study, published in mongabay.com’s open access journal Tropical Conservation Science, found that manatee are still present in the region with the number having either increased or stayed the same. However, despite the seemingly sustainable numbers in the region, threats are still present.
One problem is manatees are either caught intentionally for bushmeat or accidentally in nets and other fishing gear. Also, another problem is water pollution by fishing enterprises, industrial plantations, and individuals. Solutions, according to the study, include: increased law enforcement, education, sensitization, and ecotourism, amongst others.
- Mayaka, T. B., Awah, H. C. and Ajonina, G. 2013. Conservation status of manatee (Trichechus senegalensis Link 1795) in Lower Sanaga Basin, Cameroon: An ethnobiological assessment. Tropical Conservation Science. Vol. 6(4):521-538.
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