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The National Aquarium and The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund launch African Manatee Conservation Project

By AQ Press Office
11 Jun 2024

Abu Dhabi, UAE, 11 June 2024: The National Aquarium Abu Dhabi, in collaboration with the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund (MBZSCF), is proud to announce the commencement of groundwork in West Africa for the ‘African Manatee Conservation Project’. This vital initiative was announced during the curtain drop event on the 3rd of April 2024, where two African Manatees were introduced into their new home at the Aquarium. As one of the select locations globally where the African Manatee species can be observed and studied, the National Aquarium Abu Dhabi now plays a pivotal role in advancing conservation efforts for this vulnerable species in West Africa.

The National Aquarium commits to an annual contribution of US$25,000 to sustain this project, sourced from proceeds generated by its Manatee Retail Shop. These funds are managed by MBZSCF in collaboration with the African Aquatic Conservation Fund (AACF), a seasoned NGO with over a decade of expertise in aquatic mammal conservation across 19 countries in West Africa. AACF strategically allocates these resources towards extensive research, conservation, and educational outreach initiatives, with a focused objective of safeguarding vulnerable African manatee populations in their natural habitats in Senegal and Guinea.

The African Manatee Conservation Project will focus on several key areas, including in-depth studies on the manatees’ population genetics, acoustics, feeding ecology, and physiology. This research is crucial for understanding the threats these manatees face and developing strategies to mitigate them. Additionally, the project will provide support for at least ten researchers and African graduate students, covering essential expenses such as fieldwork, laboratory analyses, and travel to present their findings at international conferences.

The project also prioritizes community involvement and education, actively engaging local communities in Senegal and Guinea through outreach programs centered on manatee conservation. Drawing upon the invaluable insights of local inhabitants regarding manatee habitats, behavior, potential threats, and local folklore, these perspectives shall guide the project's strategies and incorporate indigenous knowledge into research methodologies, ensuring that conservation efforts are culturally sensitive and well-informed. Key to facilitating these interactions are young biologists from Senegal and Guinea, who will play pivotal roles in contributing to the project's success while gaining valuable experience.

"We are proud to collaborate with the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and the African Aquatic Conservation Fund on this vital project. By combining our resources and expertise, we can make significant strides in protecting the African manatee and preserving the biodiversity of West Africa," said Paul Hamilton, General Manager at the National Aquarium Abu Dhabi.

In the summer of 2024, the project will initiate fieldwork at the Koulountou River in southern Senegal to study newly discovered manatee populations and assess their habitat use and potential threats. Further fieldwork is planned for winter 2025 along the Senegal and Niger Rivers to gather data on inland manatee populations, their diet, and ecological roles. These efforts are expected to provide critical insights into manatee behavior and population dynamics, informing future conservation strategies.

The long-term vision of the African Manatee Conservation Project includes the establishment of the African Manatee Alliance (AMA), a regional network designed to enhance collaboration among researchers and conservationists across the species' range. This network will facilitate shared knowledge, coordinated conservation actions, and fundraising for future initiatives, ensuring sustained efforts to contribute to the long-term survival of these magnificent creatures.

In its commitment to nurturing the next generation of conservationists, The National Aquarium strives to inspire a greater sense of environmental responsibility and advocate for practices that uphold biodiversity and safeguard the planet and its precious species. UAE citizens and visitors can further explore these vital conservation efforts and the role they can play by visiting the National Aquarium, where they can witness the majestic Manatees firsthand and gain invaluable insights into their significance within our ecosystem.