Saving the West African Manatee

The (West African) Manatee is an aquatic mammal living in mangrove and river ecosystems. This essential herbivore – with a ‘threatened’ status according to the IUCN Red List – suffers greatly from human activity. Through community projects, national policies and regulations and international treaties we turn the tide for this natural dredger of river bottoms.

The West African Manatee (Trichechus senegalensis) measures up to 3 meters and can weigh up to 500 kilograms. The manatee is the source of many myths and legends and is the subject of rituals. It ranges from Southern Mauritania as far south as Angola and as far east as Chad.
It migrates, depending on the season, between rivers and waterways to feed and reproduce. This migration depends on water levels as well as salinity, though the manatee prefers waters that are calm (mid to low level zones of rivers, lakes, lagoons, flood plains and low coastal zones) and cold.
Manatees eat tonnes of aquatic vegetation per year. Thereby it functions as a natural dredger of river bottoms – improving the navigability of rivers and canals. Furthermore, manatee feces are food for phytoplankton, which in turn is food for fish.

The problem

The West African Manatee is hunted, its migration route blocked by dangerous dam infrastructure, and its mangrove habitat shrinking. Manatees captured by hunters or accidentally caught in fishing nets or rice fields are killed and their precious meat sold, their fat used for medicine and skin for ropes.
The destruction of mangroves leads to shrinking of its habitat; contributing to these deadly encounters with humans. Furthermore, manatees are killed in hydropower turbines or the control gates of dams. These dams and other river diversions prevent its passage along its migration route.

What we do

Wetlands International Africa has been working for years to protect the manatee, starting with bringing together governments and NGOs for the development of the Conservation Strategy of the West African Manatee, which is supported by the Abidjan Convention. Under the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), 15 countries signed the Memorandum of Understanding to reinforce the efforts of Wetlands International Africa to protect this vulnerable species.

Community-based conservation

We work with local communities to stop the hunting and killing of manatees through awareness raising, training of former hunters in monitoring and eco-tourism, and providing of alternative livelihood options.


National policies

Since the development of the Conservation Strategy of the West African Manatee, we have been working with six governments of Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea and Sierra Leone to develop national policies and regulations that preserve the manatee. These include setting up monitoring schemes, penalties for hunting and killing, and adjusting infrastructure to allow manatees save passage.

International conventions

Wetlands International Africa is leading the process to increase the status of West African manatees in the CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and its inclusion in the Convention for Migratory Species (CMS).





  • Conservation Strategy of the West African Manatee, supported by the Abidjan Convention
  • Memorandum of Understanding under the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) signed by 15 countries
  • Completely halt of deadly trapped manatees in the Matam region in Senegal by removing the gates of the dam in 2009, and in Sierra Leone, mainly in Fogbo and Gbundapi.
  • Mining company Rio Tinto integrated manatee migration routes in its plans to develop a mineral port on the Guinea-Sierra Leone border.
  • Manatees have been included in Environmental Impact Assessments in a variety of other economic development plans throughout West Africa of the Senegal River Basin Authority OMVS.
  • A manatee monitoring programme has been set up covering six West African countries, which facilitates research and conservation of this vulnerable species
  • In Sierra Leone the new Fisheries Act considerably raised the awareness of its population about the need to protect the species and included legal penalties for killing manatees.
  • Guinea Conakry now has its own National Manatee Conservation Action Plan and implementing project
  • Guinea Bissau has started of its own process to elaborate its national action plan
  • The manatee is incorporated in the management plan of the Senegal-The Gambia transboundary Niumi wetland of International Importance

Educational booklet (FR)