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Ghana: Manatee Training Workshop 2009

I just spent an action-packed two weeks at Lake Volta, Ghana teaching a research and conservation training workshop for the West African manatee! It was great. This is my second year participating in the workshop, and co-teaching it with Patrick Ofori-Dansen from the University of Ghana. It’s funded by Earthwatch and coordinated by Nature Conservation Research Center (NCRC, a Ghanian NGO). As always, it was a wonderful experience that left me energized and hopeful for the future of West African manatee conservation.

This year we had 28 applicants for 16 spaces in 2 workshops; the second one will be taught in mid-November. Most of the applicants have already started manatee work in their countries, and Earthwatch funds participants to attend, so it was a very competitive selection process. This team ended up with participants from 7 countries: Mali, Guinea, Angola, Gabon, Cameroon, Benin and Senegal. And over the past three years this program will have trained researchers from 18 countries. Not bad considering the range of the species is 21 countries! For quite a few countries we’ve also trained more than one researcher, so I think we have achieved a lot of capacity building. Aside from helping train people for field research, my greatest hope is to build a cohesive network for manatee research and conservation in West Africa, and I plan to continue to work with these dedicated folks long after the training workshops have ended.

On October 18 we packed ourselves and all our gear into a mini bus and left Accra. After a 4 hour drive and a short ferry ride, we reached the Afram Arm of Lake Volta. We stayed in a campground that was created especially for this program and is staffed by people from a nearby village. The camp has a dining and classroom hut, a kitchen, storage and bathroom huts. We stayed in tents under several large trees. Over the next 2 weeks we combined classroom lectures with an introduction to field sampling equipment and techniques. Participants also gave presentations about research in their home country, and in the evenings we also had “social sharing” where each person told their personal life story. So in a very short time everyone became close friends, there was lots of joking and laughing and comraderie. This team was different from the group I worked with last year in that it was all men, and almost everyone was from a Francophone country, and so most conversation was in French. I really enjoyed being “one of the boys!”

Here’s a glimpse of the participants, where we were and what we accomplished:
The ferry that took us across the Afram Arm of Lake Volta

Ladies on the ferry, I just liked the way the sun lit up their colorful dresses
Pius from Cameroon and Cece from Guinea. Pius works with gorillas and will start manatee research in northern Cameroon for Wildlife Conservation Society; Cece is a veterinarian who has already begun manatee surveys in his country.

Abdoulaye from Mali works for the Niger River Basin Authority. Here he’s laying a transect line for aquatic plant sampling in Lake Volta.
Mr. Ansah (in the crazy hat) is the class assistant and teaches the participants about environmental sampling equipment and water chemistry testing. Momar from Wetlands International in Senegal and Mendes from Angola record data. Boat trips are used to practice sampling methods.
This is Mendes doing cranial measurements on a manatee skull. Mendes works for the Angolan Ministry of the Environment and accompanied me in the field during Congo River surveys last year. He’s eager to start manatee research in central Angola, where human impact is high.
Chris from Benin learns water analysis techniques from Ansah. Chris has been studying manatees in Benin for several years and is hoping to publish his data soon.
Stephane from Gabon is seen here giving a presentation on his work of the past two years: assessing the manatee bushmeat trade in central Gabon. Since he knows most of the hunters, he has been able to collect some of the most accurate data on manatee hunting anywhere in Africa.
And of course “Prof”! He’s been studying manatees in Lake Volta since 1998. This was a discussion at the beginning of the workshop, to introduce the participants to all the sampling equipment: GPS, secchi disk, dissolved oxygen meter, depth sounder, etc.

Once on the water, everyone got a chance to use the equipment and record data.
We also went out very early one morning hoping to see manatees feeding. Unfortunately we didn’t spot any, but we did get a beautiful sunrise.
Local fishermen

Did I mention it rained almost everyday? Camping in the mud loses it’s novelty quickly! But luckily the ground dried quickly once the sun came out.
Abdoulaye from Mali in traditional garb
Enjoying the boat with Stephane and Momar…

And this is the whole team! Momar, Martin from NCRC (our awesome logistics coordinator), Ansah, Mendes, Stephane (with arms raised), Prof Patrick Ofori-Dansen, Pius, Abdoulaye, Lucy… and in front: Cece and Chris. Congratulations to the newest members of the manattee research community!

1 Comment
  • Anonymous

    November 9, 2009 at 3:37 pm Reply

    Lucy – You're a powerhouse! I'm delighted for you and the participants of the workshop that so much was accomplished and so many countries were represented. FANTASTIC!

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