May 28, 2024

AMU Alumna Works to Support Efforts to Save African Manatees

Author: David Hubler
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Image courtesy of April Smith.

Start an environmental science degree at American Military University.

By David E. Hubler
Contributor, Online Learning Tips

AMU alumna April Smith recently completed her master’s degree in environmental policy and management with a concentration on fish and wildlife management. Her program included an optional internship at the Cincinnati Zoo.

“I always knew that I wanted to work in conservation and protecting animals as a career path,” Smith says. Protecting manatees, however, was not at the top of her wish list. “It was a kind of a roundabout way of getting right [to] where I’m supposed to be,” she adds.

Smith Receives Grant from Cincinnati Zoo to Rescue Manatees

Her internship led to a seasonal position and eventually a full-time job at the zoo. Her new position made her eligible to apply for the zoo’s employee grants to provide financial support for in-situ conservation efforts.

The Cincinnati Zoo and the Columbus Zoo are the only two zoos outside Florida that participate in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Manatee Rehabilitation Partnership. The goal of the program is to rescue and treat sick, injured and orphaned manatees in Florida, and then release them back into the wild.

The Cincinnati Zoo is currently home to four manatee orphans that are being rehabilitated with the goal of releasing them into the water next year.

In December, Smith won a grant for the African Aquatic Conservation Fund’s African Manatee Conservation Project, which is based in Senegal.

The West African manatee (Trichechus senegalensis) faces the threat of extinction, mostly from the actions of people.

Like their more well-known Florida cousins, these animals are sometimes trapped in fishing nets or hunted for their meat. The destruction of mangroves reduces their food supply and the damming of waterways also poses an existential threat to the species.

Work of the African Manatee Conservation Project

The work of the African Manatee Conservation Project includes:

  • Conducting year-round coastal and inland surveys and threat assessments
  • Collaborating with governmental wildlife agencies to find practical, sustainable conservation solutions, including the creation of protected areas and alternative livelihood programs for hunters
  • Building a network of trained researchers in 19 African countries
  • Leading public outreach and educational programs to raise manatee awareness

As a result, there are fewer than 10,000 manatees left in West Africa, according to an estimate by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, a comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of animals and plant species.

Collecting More Information Will Help Manatees in Future

By gathering information on the African manatee, “conservationists will know how to better protect it,” Smith explained.

The grant is not large, Smith acknowledges. However, she is confident that project director Dr. Lucy Keith Diagne in Senegal knows how to use the grant to get the maximum benefit to aid the endangered animals.

“My role was to write and submit the grant, and I will continue to serve as the liaison between the zoo and the project for the rest of the year,” Smith says. “I will also be responsible for presenting updates and submitting a final report of how funds were used and what was accomplished at the end of the year.”

Her work also includes maintaining communication between the zoo and the project. Smith will ensure that the researchers have what they need to do their work and inform Cincinnati Zoo officials how the grant money is being spent to support research in population genetics and habitat surveys.

Smith admits she’d love to go to Senegal and experience the project firsthand. But it’s a matter of having the time and resources to get there, she says.

So for the time being, Smith will remain in Cincinnati, hoping to find the time to attend commencement exercises in May.

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