Embargo on the Sirens

7 Mar 2013

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
CITES 2013 – Bangkok, 4.45 pm (local time)

Press Release n°4

Caribbean and Amazonian manatees have been listed under Appendix I of CITES since 1975.

It took 38 years for the West African manatee (Trichechus senegalensis) to get the same protection. The proposal from Senegal, Benin, and Sierra Leone was approved by consensus. Today, the population of West African manatees is estimated to be less than 10,000 individuals living in the estuaries and costal waters of 21 countries. Reaching up to 3m in length and between 300 and 500 kg, manatees, also known as sea cows, are exclusively herbivores. Some grand individuals can even reach up to 4m in length and weigh over 1,000kg. Consuming 30kg of aquatic plants each day, they are considered the best biological means of combatting the colonization of invasive species, such as the water hyacinth.


© Bruno Congar / Robin des Bois

Manatees seasonally migrate upstream. Pollution, dams, fishing nets, and deteriorating water quality threaten their routes. Mangroves, frequent costal habitats for manatees, are in decline. Contamination of the water in the lagoon of Abidjan has made it inhabitable.

Along with dugongs, manatees are species of the order Sirenia. Manatees are the sirens of African and American mythologies but they do not only exist in stories and fables. Nonchalant, slow moving, in contact with people through costal and interior waters, manatees were hunted and eaten in the 17th century by sailors, pirates and colonists. Today they are confronted with the reality of a new wave of intense poaching. A “manatee mafia,” using the expression of authorities for the protection of West African fauna, fuels trade in live manatees as well as their hides, oil, bones, and genital organs (4,500 USD per animal). Illegal trafficking is growing. The main importers of manatees and manatee-based products are South Korea, China and Taiwan. Inter-African trade is also developing between the riparian countries on the Gulf of Guinea. Manatee oil is rumored to cure rheumatism and pain. It is sold for $300 a liter. Male genital organs are rumored to have properties against impotence just as female genital organs are believed stimulate the libido. Manatee meat is known as “aquatic bush meat.”

Robin des Bois welcomes the decision of CITES member states who work towards the protection of the manatee. The will of nearly all of the range states has been respected. CITES might be able to save West African manatees from extinction and avoid a fate similar to Stellar’s sea cow, another species of the order Sirenia discovered by Danish explorers during the middle of the 18th century. Twenty-seven years later, hunters and fur traders had massacred them to extinction. They grew up to 8 meters long.







Imprimer cet article Imprimer cet article