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Mali: Bamako

It’s been a busy and interesting few days in Bamako. After arriving last Thursday, Tomas and I met up with one of our Malian colleagues, Alfousseini, who took us on a grand tour of the city. The city is defined by the Niger River which passes through on it’s long journey from the mountains of Guinea, north through Mali, Niger and Nigeria on it’s way to the sea. There are no manatees in the river in Bamako anymore, due to dams and probably hunting long ago. Next week we’ll travel north to Mopti and Djenne to study where manatees are found today- the inland Niger delta.
Central Bamako near city hall. The streets are crowded with literally thousands of motor bikes.

Bamako sits in a valley below lots of hills and the mighty Niger River flows through the middle. It is picturesque but unfortunately polluted from factories and agricultural runoff.
This is the office of the Niger River Basin Authority, where Alfousseini works. They are very interested in manatee conservation and research.
We also went to the zoo, where they used to have 2 captive manatees which unfortunately died awhile back (causes of death are unclear, but my sense is that unfortunately they didn’t know how to properly care for them). This is the sign near the pool where they kept them. We were told that people flocked to the zoo to see them, because they are so fascinated by such a mysterious creature and opportunities to see one are so rare.

The manatee pool.
After the manatees died they preserved them in a giant tank of formalin so that people could still see them. Unfortunately someone broke the glass and stole the manatee bones and other parts, which they consider useful for traditional medicine. Alfousseini and the zoo keeper lamented that people could be so short-sighted. All that remains today is a chunk of mummified skin.
We also saw the National Museum of Art, the presidential palace and gardens, the conservatory of music and many busy markets! It’s just a few days before the Muslim holiday Tabaski, so the markets are crazy with shoppers buying food, new clothes and other supplies. We went to the market to check out the “fetish” stands, which are the vendors selling animal parts, usually for traditional medicine or religious purposes. Although I find looking at piles of dead animals (and particularly wildlife) depressing, I’ve found I learn alot from these stands in the sense that you can tell how prevalent certain species are in a country by their presence or absence in the market, and you can also tell how stringently (or not) the laws are enforced by the willingness of vendors to talk about or show you that they have certain species. Here in Bamako manatee bones and parts were not seen, and most vendors either didn’t know what a manatee was or didn’t have any. Sometimes they are reluctant to talk to a white person, so Tomas went back without me and was able to see a couple manatee bones. But overall this market had much less wildlife than others I’ve seen.
This is a typical vendor stand. In general vendors here had primarily domestic animal parts (horse skulls, dog legs), but I did see a few monkey skulls, crocodile and antelope pelts.

On Monday we met with officials from several different government agencies to talk about the upcoming training workshop and manatees in Mali. These diplomatic meetings are always necessary in Africa in order to get people from multiple agencies to work together. Alfousseini was extremely helpful in setting up meetings with all the correct people, and I’m also thankful for Tomas, who always knows the most diplomatic thing to say and has taught me so much about protocols with officials! The first meeting of the day was with the director of the Niger River Basin Authority. He was a very pleasant fellow who talked at length about the need for conservationists and people involved in development to work together to protect wildlife.

Next I met with the director of Water and Forestry (middle of photo below, Alfousseini is on the right) which is an agency similar to Fish and Wildlife in the USA.

Then we met with the head of the wildlife protection section. He plans to attend the training workshop in Djenne so we mostly talked logistics.

After that we stopped by the Ministry of Environment to say hello to several officials. Phew! Now it’s time to pack because we leave for Mopti early tomorrow morning.

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