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Senegal: Delta Saloum

Last week I spent three days in the northern part of the Saloum Delta, a huge mangrove estuary in central Senegal. It s a beautiful area with salt flats filled with flamingoes, savannah with giant baobab trees, countless mangrove channels and lots of fishing boats. I had a chance to talk to many fishermen about manatees there and to distribute informational posters, which they eagerly took. People were very curious to learn more about a creature they consider spiritual and mysterious. Manatees are still hunted in this area, although they are rare now and only one or two are caught per year.

Interestingly, most of the manatee carcass data that Buddy Powell was able to collect for the species in the 1980’s and 90’s came from this area. There is a marine protected area in the south of the Delta, but I wasn’t able to get there this time. I hope to do more work here in the future.

My internet connection time is limited at the moment, so here are a few pictures to give an idea of the place and what I did there:

Fishermen in Ndangane check out manatee informational posters in French to learn more about the species. They told me that only certain families are manatee hunters and that it is believed these people can communicate with the manatees. They also told me about a number of freshwater springs in the area where manatees come to drink.
Young boys with posters and stickers. Although the manatee is hunted here, it is also revered and there’s a general sense of fascination about them. People say they are no longer hunted in the protected area because they know they will get in trouble. It’s a start to protection!

Beautiful, brightly colored fishing boats at Ndangane
The view at the place where we stayed- gorgeous!
There are numerous intiatives to re-plant mangroves in the area- some efforts are led by NGOs while others are led directly by the people and their communities. This photo shows 2 species (the ones on top of the sandbar are a different species from the one in the water, I need to get correct species names!). It is great to see environmental initiatives going strong here, hopefully that will lead to awareness and protection for many species. We were able to go to one of the freshwater springs by boat but it was late in the day and I couldn’t jump in and check it out. It is hard to see, but it’s situated between the two sandbars in the photo below. Manatees generally come at night, and I am sure this is related to hunting pressure.
Flamingoes at sunset on the mudflat
I also met with village elders at Ndangane who had interesting perspectives on hunting techniques

At the end of the trip I met a very cool guy named Doudou at Joal (left). He has worked on fisheries bycatch issues previously and had reports of manatee carcasses going back many years. Here he shows me a manatee bone he took from a carcass in 2004 (that’s his wife in the middle). As we drove along we came upon this sign purely by chance! Of course we searched for and found the place and met the owner, Anne-Catherine, who is a neat lady. After working in the pharmacutical industry for many years she decided to start an ecotourism venture that includes both environmental and cultural awareness. Eventually she hopes to open a hotel there, but for now there is a nice restaurant, a library and a beautiful lodge overlooking the water. We had a great conversation about manatees and I hope to plan future work together. This manatee trap was at Source Aux Lamantins and shows how hunters set traps in mangroves where manatees feed. They sit on top of the trap at night and when the manatee bumps the trap, they harpoon it. Luckily this one is no longer in use, it’s only for educational purposes.
This morning I arrived in Accra, Ghana, and tomorrow I head out to the Afram Arm of Lake Volta to co-teach a manatee research and conservation workshop for African biologists. We have 8 participants from 8 different countries and I’ll write lots more about it when I return to internet in 2 weeks!
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