In July 2015, Dr. Lucy Keith Diagne’s MENTOR Manatee program admitted two members of the OELO team: co-founder, Cyrille Mvele, and Environmental Education Coordinator, Rébecca Djanivenda. Cyrille and Rébecca participated in the intensive three-week training on African manatee conservation and research, the first of three meetings over the next two years. The training group, comprised of mentees from Cameroon, Republic of Congo, and Gabon, met in Libreville to learn from conservation experts. They then headed to Lambaréné for a week of research presentations, field-work instruction, and financial training for future research projects.
Both Cyrille and Rébecca presented to the group about their African manatee work with OELO, on community outreach, bushmeat market surveys, and environmental education. During a field trip to Marché Isaac, Cyrille was able to show the group his process in conducting these market surveys, explaining how he talks with vendors, restaurant owners, and buyers to better understand how bushmeat is sold, to inform the public, and to establish good relations in the community. With MENTOR Manatee’s help, OELO erected an informative panel, in partnership with the Mayor's Office, focusing on African manatee and slender-snouted crocodile conservation.
At Tsam Tsam, OELO hosted Dr. Lucy’s group on the next leg of their training for a week of hands-on field-work experience, outreach training, and team building. As part of outreach training, group members visited a village of known manatee hunters on Lake Ezanga to better understand hunting techniques, to spread awareness about the threatened species, and to track down any skeletal remains that could be tested for much needed genetic information on the little-studied population. After a week of lake surveys, the team did not record any manatee sightings on Lake Oguemoué, suggesting that manatees leave the lake during the dry season, perhaps to search for submerged vegetation in neighboring waterways. Then, on one of the last days of the workshop, a fresh manatee stool was found floating on the lake just in front of the ecotourism site, a perfect sample for one of the members’ research projects on hormone levels. Obviously, the lake genie has a sense of humor!
Rébecca and Cyrille will be working hard over the course of their MENTOR Manatee projects and we will be sure to share updates of their progress. There is still so much to learn about this species and how to better protect it in the lake region of Gabon.
The MENTOR Manatee group will reconvene next March in Cameroon to continue their hard work. For more information, see Lucy’s blog, In Search of Mamiwata.