Saturday, October 20, 2007

God is an Appendix II species

I have just returned from the Western African Talks on Cetaceans and their Habitats (WATCH) organized by the Secretariat of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).

In fact, the talks were not just about cetaceans: a Memorandum of Understanding for the protection of what is left of the Atlantic population of Mediterranean Monk Seals was signed on Thursday (seals are pinnipeds, not cetaceans), and the meeting has adopted measures to enhance the conservation of West African manatees (together with the dugongs, manatees belong to the order of sirenians).

On Thursday, Tim Dodman from Wetlands International gave an excellent lecture about the little known and poorly studied West African manatees. No-one exactly knows how many of them there are; estimates range between 5,000 and 10,000. Tim explained that whereas in some regions manatee meat is consumed by humans, in others these herbivore aquatic mammals are revered and even considered as Gods or Godesses in a number of traditions.

Despite threats from hunting, poaching, entanglement in fishing nets, pollution, coastal habitat degradation, climate change and droughts (there are populations inland in rivers and lagoons, including in the landlocked countries of Mali and Chad), West African manatees are on CMS Appendix II, not on Appendix I which would give them a higher degree of protection.

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