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Podcast: Hippos, manatees, and how the sounds of African wildlife aid their conservation

  • On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we discuss two bioacoustics studies of African wildlife and listen to recordings of hippos and manatees.
  • We speak with Nicolas Mathevon, a professor at the University of Saint-Etienne in France and co-author of a report published in Current Biology Magazine last month summarizing the results of a study that determined vocal recognition is used by hippos to manage relationships between territorial groups. Mathevon tells us about the study of vocal recognition in hippos, plays us some of the hippo calls used in the study, and tells us how the study’s findings could help improve conservation measures like translocations.
  • We also speak with Clinton Factheu, a PhD Student at the University of Yaoundé 1 in Cameroon and a research assistant with the African Marine Mammal Conservation Organization. Factheu recently co-authored a study published by the The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America that used passive acoustic monitoring to provide the first characterization of African manatee vocalizations. Factheu tells us about the research, explains why bioacoustic monitoring is one of the best ways to study a freshwater/marine mammal like the manatee, and plays a number of manatee calls for us.

Today we look at two new studies of African wildlife using bioacoustics and take a listen to some of the recordings informing that research.

Listen here:

Bioacoustics combines biology and acoustics. In other words, it’s the study of the sounds of nature, which can tell us a lot about things like animal behavior and population dynamics, how species are responding to pressures like habitat destruction or global warming, and much more. This knowledge, in turn, can help in the design of effective conservation measures. Bioacoustics is a rapidly growing field of study and is being used to gather data on a wide variety of wildlife around the world right now, but according to a recent study published in the journal Bioacoustics (Becker et al. 2022), there is considerable room to expand bioacoustics research on the African continent, one of the most biodiverse regions on planet Earth. The researchers found that nearly 70% of the bioacoustics studies done in Africa focused on animal behavior, particularly the behavior of terrestrial mammal species. So on this episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we’re discussing bioacoustics studies of semiaquatic, freshwater, and marine mammal species.

Our first guest is Nicolas Mathevon, a professor at the University of Saint-Etienne in France who co-authored a report published in Current Biology Magazine last month that summarized the results of a study that found vocal recognition is used by hippos to manage relationships between territorial groups. Mathevon tells us about the study of vocal recognition in hippos, plays us some of the hippo calls used in the study, and tells us how the study’s findings could help improve conservation measures like translocations.

We also speak today with Clinton Factheu, a PhD Student at the University of Yaoundé 1 in Cameroon and a research assistant with the African Marine Mammal Conservation Organization. Factheu recently co-authored a study published by the The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America that used passive acoustic monitoring to provide the first characterization of African manatee vocalizations. Factheu tells us about the research and why monitoring the species with bioacoustics is one of the best ways to study this marine mammal. He also plays a number of manatee calls for us.

Here are the studies discussed in this episode:

• Becker, F. K., Shabangu, F. W., Gridley, T., Wittmer, H. U., & Marsland, S. (2022). Sounding out a continent: seven decades of bioacoustics research in Africa. Bioacoustics. doi:10.1080/09524622.2021.2021987

• Rycyk, A. M., Factheu, C., Ramos, E. A., Brady, B. A., Kikuchi, M., Nations, H. F., … & Takoukam Kamla, A. (2021). First characterization of vocalizations and passive acoustic monitoring of the vulnerable African manatee (Trichechus senegalensis). The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 150(4), 3028-3037. doi:10.1121/10.0006734

• Thévenet, J., Grimault, N., Fonseca, P., & Mathevon, N. (2022). Voice-mediated interactions in a megaherbivore. Current Biology, 32(2), R70-R71. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2021.12.017

A hippopotamus in Mozambique’s Maputo Special Reserve. Photo by Nicolas Mathevon.
African manatee. Image by Tylerjensen451 via Creative Commons CC-BY-SA.

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Follow Mike Gaworecki on Twitter: @mikeg2001

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