Western African Aquatic Mammals

The MOU was concluded under the auspices of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and came into effect on 3 October 2008. It will remain open for signature indefinitely. It aims to achieve and maintain a favourable conservation status for manatees and small cetaceans of Western Africa and Macaronesia and their habitats and to safeguard the associated values of these species for the people of the region.

Various threats, including direct and accidental catch, coastal development, pollution and habitat degradation, have caused West African marine mammal populations to decline rapidly. These issues require action at a national, regional and global level. Efforts to protect marine mammals and raise awareness of their conservation needs include the convening of meetings, the undertaking of studies and field activities, the adoption of legal instruments, as well as the development of international agreements.

Small Cetaceans in Western Africa

A number of species of small cetaceans can be found in West African waters, including the endemic Atlantic humpback dolphin. Small cetaceans, which include dolphins, porpoises and small toothed whales, are subjected to various threats, such as habitat degradation, bycatch, directed catches, over-fishing and pollution. In order to study and provide information on the conservation status of small cetaceans in West Africa – a region where the conservation situation of small cetaceans is not well known – a series of projects have been undertaken with financial support from CMS.

These studies – WAFCET 1-3 – stressed the importance of the conservation of small cetaceans in West Africa.

West African Manatee

The West African manatee belongs to the order Sirenia and is one of three manatee species, along with the Amazonian and the American manatee. Being the most threatened of the three species, as noted by the CMS Scientific Council in 1999, it is listed in Appendix II of the Convention. Among the main threats for this species are the destruction of its natural habitats, mangroves and coastal wetlands, by pollution and overexploitation; and the hunting for meat, leather and oil. A further threat is incidental catch in fishing nets. Despite legal protection by national laws in Range States, killing and illegal utilization continue, showing a lack of effective compliance and enforcement.

In view of the various threats to the West African manatee, Wetlands International has developed a conservation strategy with a view to implementing an action plan, in collaboration with the Convention for Cooperation in the Protection and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the West and Central African Region (Abidjan Convention, 1984), the United Nations Environment Programme and CMS. A regional meeting to discuss issues pertaining to the current development of an action plan for the conservation of the West African manatee was held in Dakar in December 2006.

The CMS Initiative for the Conservation of Marine Mammals in Western Africa

The idea of developing an action plan for the conservation of West African small cetaceans and manatees was launched at the workshop on “Conservation and Management of small cetaceans of the coast of Africa” held in Conakry, Guinea, in May 2000. Meeting participants were representatives of seven Range States (Benin, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Senegal, The Gambia and Togo), as well as international experts. Two resolutions (Res.7.7 and Res.8.5) and one recommendation (Rec.7.3) adopted by the CMS Conference of the Parties at its Seventh and Eighth Meetings in 2002 and 2005, respectively, support the development of a CMS instrument on small cetaceans and sirenians in West Africa as well as the implementation of action plans.

A first negotiation meeting (Adeje, Tenerife, Spain, in October 2007) had considered and further elaborated a Memorandum of Understanding Concerning the Conservation of the Manatee and Small Cetaceans of Western Africa and Macaronesia, including two separate Action Plans for small cetaceans and the West African manatee respectively. A year after this successful first WATCH (Western African Talks on Cetaceans and their Habitats) meeting, the WATCH II meeting was held on 2-3 October 2008 in Lomé, Togo. Here, the final negotiation and signing of the Memorandum of Understanding took place, including the adoption of the two action plans, which are annexes to the MOU. 15 governmental representatives signed the MOU, as well as three non-governmental collaborating organisations.


Titlesort descending Status Status date CMS Party number Region
Angola MOU Signatory 2008 099 Africa
Benin MOU Signatory 2008 021 Africa
Burkina Faso Range State 030 Africa
Cabo Verde MOU Signatory 2008 096 Africa
Cameroon Range State 001 Africa
Chad MOU Signatory 2008 051 Africa
Congo (Brazzaville) MOU Signatory 2008 066 Africa
Côte d'Ivoire MOU Signatory 2008 083 Africa
Democratic Republic of the Congo (Kinshasa) Range State 034 Africa
Equatorial Guinea MOU Signatory 2008 114 Africa
Gabon MOU Signatory 2008 109 Africa
Gambia Range State 075 Africa
Ghana MOU Signatory 2008 026 Africa
Guinea MOU Signatory 2008 041 Africa
Guinea-Bissau MOU Signatory 2008 047 Africa
Liberia MOU Signatory 2008 088 Africa
Mali MOU Signatory 2008 024 Africa
Mauritania MOU Signatory 2008 054 Africa
Morocco Range State 042 Africa
Namibia Range State AM Africa


Instrument nameMemorandum of Understanding concerning the Conservation of the Manatee and Small Cetaceans of Western Africa and Macaronesia
TypeArticle IV(4)
DepositaryCMS Secretariat
SignatureSigned by 17 States and 6 Colaborating Organisations (for details please scroll to 'other' and 'MoU Signatory')
In effectImmediately following signature by seven Range States; open for signature indefinitely, will become effective for each subsequent Range State on the date of signature
Actually in effect03 October 2008
Website URLhttp://www.cms.int/aquatic-mammals
OtherAlso signed by Collaborating Organisations: 3 October 2008: CMS Secretariat, Wetlands International Africa, Wildlife Trust and Society for the Conservation of Marine Mammals and 5 December 2008: Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and World Wild Fund for Nature

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