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It’s Official! African Manatees are now CITES Appendix I

Not surprisingly, after the CITES COP overwhelmingly reached a consensus to uplist African manatees from Appendix II to Appendix I, the proposal was quickly approved at the CITES plenary session last week. So it will be official in approximately 90 days. What does this mean? It will ban international commercial trade, but in reality not many African manatees are legally traded (about 19 have gone to aquariums in Asia over the past decade). I dearly hope this measure will bring attention to all the poaching of the species and lead to crackdowns in illegal trade of manatee meat and parts in African countries, but the skeptic in me is concerned that without dedicated funds, not much will happen. The good news is governments in many African countries support protecting their manatees (13 country reps signed a declaration stating they will work towards specific objectives to decrease illegal hunting, improve manatee habitat altered by human development, and promote research, conservation and educational outreach), but I hope we can keep the good will and momentum going. And work on fundraising! I plan to continue my collaboration with the enegetic folks at the Species Survival Network in order to start working on those declaration objectives.

For researchers such as myself, a CITES Appendix I designation also means we’ll need additional permits to export/import manatee scientific specimens for analysis and educational purposes, and it will be more difficult overall. It adds another level to the dizzying number of permits I already need to keep up with, and I’m not complaining, but it can be frustrating to work so hard to do the right thing, and then see poachers openly selling manatee meat in markets. It’ll take alot of work and a long time to change the way things are, but I’m happy that I have some very dedicated African colleagues to work alongside. Here’s hoping the new CITES rule will make a real difference in African manatee conservation.

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