Last week delegates to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Conference of Parties (COP16) in Bangkok, Thailand, agreed to stronger conservation measures for the West African manatee. The proposal was led by Benin, Sierra Leone and Senegal with support from Wetlands International.
The 16th CITES Conference Of Parties (COP 16) in Bangkok, Thailand approved unanimously the transfer of the West African manatee (Trichechus senegalensis) from CITES Appendix II to Appendix I. This enhanced protection bans the international trade of this species, an important step to improve its chances of survival. Fewer than 10,000 manatees are estimated to remain, and it is facing pressure from poaching, pollution and the loss of habitat.
“Wetlands International Africa applauds this achievement. Working in the West African Regional coastal and marine conservation partnership (PRCM), we have worked since 2008 to increase knowledge and improve the conservation of the West African manatee. Recently we convened the African decision-makers and CITES COP 16 delegates in Dakar to brief them in preparation for COP16. We hope this decision will help increase investments in manatee conservation,” said Ibrahima Thiam, regional director, Wetlands International Africa, based in Dakar, Senegal.
A victory for conservation in West Africa
This enhanced protection is a result of a long process of all West African countries. The proposal was made officially by the sub-regional countries during a workshop organized by Wetlands International Africa and the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission in Dakar on February 18 and 19, 2013. The governments of Senegal, Sierra Leone and Benin have championed increased protections, and spoke about the status, threats, and future of the manatee in their statements for enhanced international protection at the CITES CoP (CoP 16 Prop .13). They have convinced many countries such as Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, and New Zealand and some conservation organizations to support the proposal for the transfer of the West African manatee from CITES Appendix II to Appendix I.
More about the manatee
The West African manatee can grow to over four metres and weigh 500 kilograms. It is classified as vulnerable on IUCN’s Red List of Threatened and Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora. It is an aquatic mammal that feeds in streams, lagoons and rivers and contributes to the regulation of the aquatic plant life in these waterways. The manatee is the source of many myths and legends in west Africa, and is found from the border zone between Mauritania and Senegal, as far south as Angola and as far east as Chad.
Threats to its survival
Humans are the sole predator of the West African manatee, hunted for consumption – its fat is considered to have medicinal value, its skin is used for making leather ropes. The manatee can be accidentally entrapped in fishing nets. However the biggest danger for this species is the disturbance such as pollution and blockages from dams, and also the destruction (reduction in area of mangrove forests, drought) of its habitat.
Wetlands International Africa: Saving the West African manatee
Video: Why the West Africa's Manatee deserves top CMS and CITES protection
Publication: Protecting the West African manatee
Pape Diomaye THIARE
Communications Officer and Media Coordinator
Wetlands International Africa
pthiare @ wetlands-africa.org