Cites conference: Little-known manatee breed in spotlight
Michael McCarthy, formerly the Independent’s longstanding Environment Editor, now its Environment Columnist, is one of Britain’s leading writers on the environment and the natural world. He has won a string of awards for his work, including Environment Journalist of the Year (three times) and Specialist Writer of the Year in the British Press Awards in 2001. In 2007 he was awarded the Medal of the RSPB for “Outstanding Services to Conservation,” in 2010 he was awarded the Silver Medal of the Zoological Society of London, and in 2011 the Dilys Breeze Medal of the British Trust for Ornithology. In 2009 McCarthy published Say Goodbye To The Cuckoo (John Murray), a study of Britain’s declining migrant birds.
Wednesday 27 February 2013
Alongside the familiar rhinos and elephants, the future of another of Africa’s threatened big mammals will be tackled at the Cites conference – but this creature is far from familiar.
Indeed, the West African manatee is one of the most curious and least known animals on earth. A sirenian, which means it belongs to the family of manatees and dugongs – supposedly the origins of the mermaid legend – it resembles the West Indian manatee sometimes seen by tourists in Florida, is 13ft long, weighs half a tonne, and occurs in the mangrove swamps and coastal lagoons of 21 West African states.
But pressures from coastal development mean it is shrinking in numbers – the estimate is by ten per cent a year – and over its huge range may now number no more than 10,000. A proposal from Senegal, Benin and Sierra Leone would stop all trade in its meat and its oil, for which it is being hunted.
“Unless we act, this is a species that will struggle to survive,” said Mark Simmonds, marine mammal specialist with Humane Society International.
“Too many things going on around it and too little attention is being paid to it at this point.”
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