In The Field

Man vs. manatee

When people talk about “the social aspects of conservation biology” I get confused. Isn’t it all social? If the goal of conservation biology is to undo the havoc that humans wreak on biodiversity then isn’t it all about people and societies—what they shoot, what they eat, what they burn, what they grow, what they make and spill?

Patrick Ofori-Danson Kwabena of the University of Ghana interviewed Ghanaian fishermen about hunting the rare and reserved West African manatee (Trichechus senegalensis). He found that 38 had been killed between 1998 and 2001, that the fishermen had no inkling that they needed to be conserved and that they relished the meat. Additionally, many believed that one had to have certain special powers to make a manatee kill. Compare that with their attitude towards dolphins, which in some places are—in Kwabena’s words—"revered as gods". When they beach or wash up on shore, sometimes special buildings are built over the corpses.

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