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A Talk on the Wild Side.

FWS Celebrates African Manatee Research

manatee underwater with algae on backAfrican manatee. Photo by Lucy Keith-Diagne/African Aquatic Conservation Fund

The African manatee is the least studied and most threatened of the world’s three manatee species, and for more than a decade, Dr. Lucy Keith-Diagne has been working tirelessly to change this. As of 2021, this elusive, understudied, and threatened mammal is benefitting from a strengthened network of researchers and conservationists, some of whom received strong support from one of the successful MENTOR programs within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s International Affairs program.

screenshot of video meetingPhoto by Lucy Keith-Diagne/African Aquatic Conservation Fund

From January 18-20, 2021, the African Aquatic Conservation Fund, co-founded and led by Dr. Keith-Diagne, hosted the First African Manatee Symposium. During the event, which was held virtually due to COVID-19, 80 attendees from 17 countries came together to consolidate information and share research insights, discuss priority topics, plan conservation actions, and strengthen network connections.

Participants gave presentations on their work and accomplishments achieved over the last 12 years. The eight fellows of the MENTOR-Manatee program, supported by the Service’s International Affairs program between 2015 and 2017, are still actively pursuing manatee research and conservation in Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Gabon. They were among the 34 presenters.

The fellows continue to stay in touch with Dr. Keith-Diagne and each other. The MENTOR-Manatee program’s impact was evident at the symposium, with presentations on research and conservation activities supported during MENTOR-Manatee, including:

  • "A rainy season with the manatees of the Petit Loango Ramsar Site, Gabon" by Christy Achtone Nkollo-Kema Kema
  • "Environmental education at the heart of manatee conservation" by Rebecca Hermande Djanivenda of OLEO
  • "Human-manatee conflicts: fish species plundered by manatee in the Southern Korup, Cameroon" by Jean Pascal Koh Dimbot
  • "Assessment of threats to the survival of manatees living in the estuary of the Congo River” by Samuel Mbungu Namba
  • "Fishy-Manatee interaction in the Lake Ossa Wildlife Reserve, Douala-Edea National Park and Nkam River, Cameroon" by Constant Ndjassi

In addition, the Service’s long-term NGO partner OELO, a recipient of funding to address bushmeat, presented:

  • "Reducing commerce of African manatee bushmeat in the Bas Ogooue of Gabon" by Cyrille Mvele  

 Much work lies ahead, but for now, symposium participants felt encouraged by their strengthened network, committed to continued information sharing, and hopeful for the future of African manatee research and conservation. At USFWS, we applaud the efforts of the symposium organizers and participants, congratulate the team of MENTOR-Manatee fellows on their ongoing manatee conservation work, and look forward to continued progress in studying and protecting the African manatee.


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