February 8, 2011

Sierra Leone Working New Ways To Protect West African Manatee

The marine resources minister said Tuesday that Sierra Leone is mulling new laws to protect the West African manatee which is under threat from bushmeat hunters, fishermen and rice growers who see it as a pest.

Soccoh Kabia opened a one-day workshop in the capital with an appeal "to end the massive hunting and killing of manatee in spite of national laws protecting and conserving" the manatee.

"The purpose of the workshop is to ... develop a conservation law that will lead to the protection and conservation of the west African manatee in Sierra Leone."

The aquatic mammal can reach up to 14 feet 9 inches in length and weigh about 750 pounds.  The seacow is classified as a species vulnerable to extinction.

The West African manatee lives in estuaries and rivers and is hunted to be eaten by rice growers and fishermen who see it as a pest.

"Several surveys have indicated that the mortality rate of the manatee is high while the reproductive potential is low at one birth in every two years," Wetlands International representative Linnette John told AFP.

Joseph Lahai called the manatee a "destructive pest" and queried why it should be protected.

Marine biologist Thomas Clarkson told AFP that the manatee did pose a destructive threat to rice cultivation and fishing areas, but suggested sanctuaries be created for their safety.

"Conserving manatees can help transformed Sierra Leone into an eco-tourist centre. After all, manatees are friendly," he added.