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Stivin Hembber is with Andrew Dunn and 11 others.

OPPORTUNITIES TO SAVE THE BENUE MANATEE: UPDATE ON MANATEE KILLED IN BENUE STATE IN DECEMBER 2019.

On 23rd December, 2019 we were hit with the sad news of the killing of another manatee (Ayu) in the River Benue. The Benue River, a major tributary of the River Niger is one of the major habitat of the West African Manatee (Trichechus Senegalensis). The manatee was killed in Katsina-Ala River which is a major tributary of the River Benue around Uga settlement in Tombu Mbalagh a Tiv clan of Benue state.

Personal findings have revealed that Mr. Dan-Asebe Chia Jembe the fisherman who killed the latest Manatee had earlier (in 2019) killed another within the same location. The Katsina-Ala tributary is considered to have higher populations of the manatees within the Benue state area of the Benue River system based on the statements by informants who are experienced fishermen. It is therefore worrisome that Mr Dan-Asebe may have found a location of activity of the manatees and could continue to kill them if no action is taken to stop him.

The carcass of the Manatee was handed to a Traditional Chief of the area who took it away as a big Christmas gift since the kill happened a few days to Christmas. This could imply an approval since the traditional chiefs command authority on and control within their domain. There are no traditional laws that forbid the killing of manatees among the Tiv but an open patronage from the traditional chief will further encourage the hunting of the manatees and increase their vulnerability throughout the Tiv area of the Benue River system.

Under Nigerian law the killing of manatee is illegal since 1985 but the law is not enforced. Nigeria has a general problem with effectively enforcing her laws. Enforcing environmental laws and regulations is even more problematic due to lack of capacity and a framework for responsibility sharing among supposed enforcement agencies. Poor law enforcement is a major factor contributing to the killing of protected species in Nigeria including the manatees.

Specific immediate actions are needed to protect the Benue manatee. The involvement of the traditional chief (s) is a huge opportunity to begin a major campaign to protect the Benue manatee. The traditional chiefs have sucessfully championed behavioral change campaigns in the state to support policies and compliance with regulations in the past. They could be very helpful in this regard too. As at present there is no awareness among the chiefs that the manatee is protected by law in Nigeria. When adequately sensitized the traditional chiefs have the capacity to support the protection of the manatees within their domain. Synergy among interested persons, groups and organisations towards this could be the important first step required to save the remaining Manatees in the Benue River.