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MENTOR Manatee Team

The team also met with students from high school nature clubs to talk about careers in conservation.

I’m very late in writing to announce an exciting new initiative that I’ve recently begun. Thanks to funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I’m leading a two year long fellowship training program for 8 Central African manatee biologists, called MENTOR Manatee. MENTOR (Mentoring for ENvironmental Training in Outreach and Resource conservation) is a signature initiative of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Without Borders Program to build the capacity of multidisciplinary teams of African conservationists who can work together to address complex conservation challenges. In addition to three training sessions over two years, the MENTOR Manatee participants have two team projects, as well as an individual African manatee project that they will complete over two years. The team projects focus on manatee hunting/bushmeat documentation and manatee education programs. Between workshops each fellow is expected to carry out a manatee bushmeat study and manatee education programs at sites in their home country. Fellows receive a stipend towards their individual projects and also receive field equipment and educational supplies.

MENTOR Manatee officially began with the first group training session in Gabon in July. The 8 participants were selected for the program through a lengthy application process. They are a super enthusiastic group of five men and three women from Cameroon, Gabon, and Democratic Republic of the Congo.

We started the first week of training off in Libreville, with lectures on conservation and education in Central Africa, given by Dr. Kate Abernethy (University of Stirling), Luc Mathot and staff (Conservation Justice), Marie Claire Paiz (The Nature Conservancy), Dr. Hugo Rainey (‎Central Africa Marine Program Director at Wildlife Conservation Society), Heather Arrowood (OELO), and Aimee Parnell (Green Butterfly Designs, she designed our African manatee education materials and programs).

For the second week, we moved to Lambarene, on the Ogooue River in Central Gabon, where each participant gave presentations about their conservation and research background and their MENTOR project proposals. With our partner organization OELO the group visited a local market and restaurants where manatee meat is sometimes sold (we didn’t find any), and helped post a sign in the market about the African manatee’s protected status.

The team also met with students from high school nature clubs to talk about careers in conservation (see above) and spent the third and final week at Tsam Tsam, an ecotourism lodge on beautiful Lake Oguemoue. There we focused on team building activities and I met with each fellow individually to plan their project activities for the next 6 months.

Afternoon hike to a nearby savannah…we saw signs of elephant, pangolin, and duikers.

While at Tsam Tsam, we did several manatee surveys and visited a village of known manatee hunters, for the team to practice their interview skills.

By the end of three weeks, we had a very close and cohesive team! Now everyone is back in their home countries working on their projects. The next training workshop for the team will take place in Cameroon in April 2016.

For more on our July training program, see this awesome blog written by our partner, OELO.

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