Aristide Takoukam Kamla is from Cameroon, Central Africa. He is a Fulbright Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences (LACS). He is also the president and founder of a non-profit organization, the African Marine Mammal Conservation Organization (AMMCO.org) based in Cameroon. Aristide founded the organization in 2012 with the goal to improve the conservation status of the African manatee and other aquatic megafauna species in Cameroon. His learning and training experience from his Ph.D. program have been contributing enormously in building up his capacities and skills to better achieve his conservation goals.
Aristide’s doctoral research topic is related to the conservation of the imperiled African manatee (Trichechus senegalensis; the least studied of all the extant sirenians) in Cameroon. He uses genetics, microhistological diet analysis, and habitat modeling approaches to infer on the population structure and movements of the species within and between two protected areas.
The African manatee is a very elusive and cryptic species that are very difficult to safely life-captured for biological sampling. Non-invasive sampling such as the collection of environmental free-floating fecal samples can be a reliable alternative. He isolates DNA from manatee feces, amplify and genotype the mitochondrial and microsatellite markers to assess the haplotype diversity and the genetic structure of the target populations. He also subsample and identify plant fragments present in the same feces samples using a light microscope to determine the diet composition of the manatees and assess how it varies by season and by habitat type. Finally, he developed a seasonal modeling of the habitat suitability based on the chemical and physical characteristics of the water such as phosphorous and chlorophyll concentrations, transparency, bathymetry and submerged vegetation distribution. The outcomes of this study will help identify critical areas in need for priority conservation efforts and define management units necessary for the development of an effective management strategy for the species in the two protected areas.