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Mission Senegal

Happy 2009! I hope everyone had wonderful and restful holidays! I’ve been busy here in Gabon, finishing end of the year reports and grant applications and planning for manatee rescue captures in Senegal (see below for more about the situation there). I leave for Dakar on Sunday night and I’m very excited. Aside from helping these particular manatees, the opportunity to finally see a live West African Manatee up close is something I’ve been waiting 3 years for! And we should also be able to collect valuable data from these guys.
In the past two weeks I’ve been working with a Spanish NGO, Fundacion CBD-Habitat, who wants to tag some of the manatees when we release them, in order to understand their movement patterns. This is important both so that manatees will not get trapped behind this dam in the future, but there are also 3 other dams planned, so understanding their seasonal habitat use is a high priority. CBD-Habitat normally works with Mediterranean Monk Seals (near and dear to my heart since I spent 4 years working with Hawaiian Monk Seals in the 1990’s) but they have never tagged manatees before, which is entirely different. Seal tags are glued directly to the seal’s fur, but a manatee tag is a floating buoy attached to the manatee by a belt around the tail and a tether to the tag. So I agreed to help them buy the correct tagging gear from colleagues in Florida (there isn’t enough time to order new equipment, which can take 6 months to build, but it is very important to use equipment that has previously been used for manatees in order to insure the safety of the manatee and the accuracy of the data) and I will attach the gear to the manatees in Senegal, training Pablo from CBD-Habitat at the same time.
Getting tagging gear bought and shipped from Florida to Spain to Senegal over the holidays when most businesses are closed and alot of components are required has taken a monumental effort from my friends and colleagues who work with Florida manatees, so I want to especially thank Monica, Chip and Margie for making this happen! And also Pablo for working so quickly and well to achieve this.
So here’s an overview of where I am going. On this Google Earth map of Senegal I’ve put a red box around the rescue location at Matam, which is a 10 hour drive from Dakar. The yellow line is the Senegal River, the border between Senegal and Mauritania. Despite the patches of green in the photo, Matam is literally at the western border of the Sahara, or Sahel as it is called in Africa. It will definitely been a new part of the world for me.

More news when I get there…

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