I’m flying to Gabon on Thursday, my first trip there since 2011. After a short stay in Libreville to get my permits and have some meetings, I’ll be heading to Lambaréné in the interior. I haven’t spent time in Lambaréné since 2006 and it’s an important place as the unfortunate center of manatee hunting for Gabon. Lambaréné sits on the mighty Ogooue River and lies west of a chain of large lakes where it is believed there is a large manatee population. There are manatee specialist hunters in the area who provide the market in Lambaréné with fresh manatee meat almost year round, and there’s basically little if any enforcement to stop the illegal trade. There is lots of other bushmeat in the market there as well, and some effort is starting to try to crack down on some of the sale of protected species, primarily elephants and primates. Hopefully the government can someday be persuaded to enforce the laws for all protected species, but I think I’ll wait many more years to see that happen.
I’m going there to lead a manatee research and conservation training workshop for biologists from several local organizations. Two Cameroonian manatee biologists will also join the workshop. My other mission is to try to collect manatee samples for genetics analysis, so that we can begin to understand this population for the first time. By having more trained biologists documenting manatee occurrence in the surrounding area and the amount of meat coming into the market, as well as sampling carcasses when they can, hopefully we’ll be able to learn about the size, genetic diversity and other biological attributes of this population (their diet, their age structure, etc.). The hope is that the information can be given to the government and other organizations trying to end hunting as documentation.
Anyway, I’m packing now and have 30 hours of flights ahead of me before I get there, but I’ll post more once I arrive!