Conservation Problems

The West African manatee is the least studied large mammal in Africa and faces serious threats from hunting, dams, and other human impacts throughout its range. Conservation of the species is greatly hindered by the lack of basic knowledge about their distribution and habitat needs. They are often referred to as the "forgotten" sirenian. The range of the species (21 countries on the African Atlantic coast from Mauritania to Angola, and the interior countries of Mali, Niger and Chad) is larger than the width of the United States, yet there have been only a handful of previous studies in a few countries, many of which were short term surveys with no follow up or local capacity building.


The species is highly susceptible to incidental capture in fishing nets and is hunted almost everywhere it occurs, despite existing protection laws in all range countries. There are no accurate estimates of population abundance, and the impact of hunting and habitat destruction are poorly documented, but the trade in manatee bushmeat is well known in Africa. The species is believed to be in decline throughout much of its range, but without baseline information, it is impossible to know how to conserve these manatees, and conservation is also unlikely without capacity building.


In the past, studies of this species have been severely limited for a variety of reasons including a lack of long-term, committed researchers and funding, as well as the difficulty of accessing the extremely remote regions where West African manatees live, the species’ elusiveness and murky water habitat throughout their range have severely limited studies.


Given these challenges, the African manatee is only likely to be conserved through a network of grassroots, localized efforts by African researchers dedicated to long-term conservation and education efforts in their countries.

Project Activities

This project comprises conservation initiatives for West African manatees in three different locations in Senegal, Nigeria and Mali, where there have been no previous conservation and management efforts for the species. SOS funding will now allow all three of these initiatives to fully implement their activities, which include identifying and protecting manatee habitat use areas, training local networks to monitor and enforce protected areas in Senegal and Mali, creating alternative livelihoods through aquaculture for manatee hunters in Nigeria, and conducting educational programs to increase local awareness of the importance of manatee conservation.


Each of the three focal areas in Senegal, Nigeria and Mali also have other manatee research and conservation goals tailored to the needs of the specific location and the local people living there.

Project Outcomes

The goals of this project are to identify important manatee habitat use sites within three specific target areas in Senegal, Mali, and Nigeria. Secondly, the project will help implement protected areas, provide training to build community-based sighting networks and alternative livelihoods, and to increase public awareness through educational programs. This project will also continue to build capacity to enable informed grassroots conservation actions for the West African manatee, and will be used as a model for other future manatee conservation initiatives across Africa.


The key outcome of this project will be to demonstrate that local initiatives can have a significant impact on African manatee conservation. This will be the first project to address objectives of the CMS West African Manatee Action Plan on an international scale, and will serve as model for numerous other sites in Africa where manatee biologists and managers hope to implement conservation efforts in the future.

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SOS - Save Our Species
>> A global coalition to conserve threatened species and their habitats