Earlier this week I spent two days in the Delta Saloum region of central Senegal to meet with the director and staff of Bamboung National Park. Two years ago they found a dead manatee (the cause of its death was not due to humans as far as they could tell) and Tomas was able to collect samples from it, which I analyzed in Florida. Now it was time to go back, meet the guys who work there, share the results of my analyses, see their site, and talk about future manatee work. As you can see by their logo above, the manatee is the emblem of their park, and everyone I met was super enthusiastic about manatees, and excited to hear the results that came from a few carcass samples. The results included the manatee’s age (29 years old), diet (seagrass and clams), and genetics information (the manatee turned out to be a new mitochondrial DNA haplotype for the species which I also identified from a manatee from Joal, a town in northern Delta Saloum)
Here’s the team I met (I later also met the director in his office). The guy in the brown shirt was absolutely thrilled to hear I had proved (using stable isotope analyses) that the manatee from their park had eaten mollusks in addition to plants. His grandfather was a manatee hunter, and he remembers as a child his grandfather telling him about the manatees eating clams, but when he tells tourists that story, they tell him he’s mistaken. He was so happy that there is now scientific proof! During our meeting we decided we’d make a manatee information plaque for the park. Two years ago they buried the dead manatee to clean the skeleton, so we’ll dig it up and set up the bones for a manatee educational display.
At the edge of the camp area the staff showed me a freshwater spring (it’s not visible here but is just in front of the small beach in this photo). There are hundreds of freshwater springs in Delta Saloum, which allow manatees to live in a saltwater environment but drink the freshwater they need to survive.
I also noticed lots of oysters growing on mangrove roots, another possible source of food for manatees. I’ll sample those next trip because I didn’t have preservative with me this time.
On our boat trip back from Bamboung to the mainland I collected samples from three species of mangroves, which I’ll add to my stable isotope analyses to determine if manatees in this area are eating them. In all likelihood they are, but stable isotope work will allow us to see whether or not the mangrove’s signature is found in the manatee samples.
I should also mention that I met with Karim Sall, a longtime manager of the marine protected area at the north end of Delta Saloum. He has seen manatees several times in the reserve’s extensive seagrass beds, so I’m planning to go sampling there next summer.
It’s great to reconnect with folks in Senegal and get manatee fieldwork started again! Lots more to come…