Sea Shepherd’s Operation Nyamba featured in the local Mayotte news

Wednesday, 16 Aug, 2017

On August 10, 2017, Le Journal de Mayotte published an article about Operation Nyamba, Sea Shepherd’s campaign to stop turtle poaching on the French island in the Indian Ocean. Translated from the original French article, “Opération Nyamba: l’ONG Sea Shepherd a mené 72 patrouilles contre le braconnage de tortues”

One of the poached turtles Sea Shepherd discovered while patrolling the beaches of Mayotte.

Forty days after launching its operation aimed at preventing turtle poaching in Mayotte, Sea Shepherd considers the project to have gotten off to a good start despite the attacks against some of its volunteers. The NGO wants to involve local officials and has plans to set up an official branch in the department.

Sea Shepherd is a well-known and respected international NGO that is not in the habit of wasting its time. When it undertakes an action, it does so methodically and commits to it for the necessary duration. Mayotte will soon see this for itself. On 30 June, to everyone’s surprise, the NGO launched its Operation Nyamba following a massacre of turtles on a beach in Mayotte. It set up patrols to prevent poaching on certain beaches of the department that are known for these activities.

Forty days on, Sea Shepherd is preparing to carry out an initial evaluation of its efforts. The NGO has so far sent out 72 patrols, which have ensured the safety of about 200 turtle landings. “Since late June, every single night, the team has spread out in several groups to watch over the egg laying, the time when turtles are most vulnerable,” explained a representative of the organisation.

“We don’t have a local branch in Mayotte, and this Nyamba mission is the first one that we’ve carried out in the department,” said Sea Shepherd France President Lamya Essemlali. “We first learned about the situation, and the scale of the poaching, from a professor in Mayotte. We then formed an initial group of volunteers, a team that only continues to grow.”

A more peaceful climate on the beaches

These patrols are divided between Petite-Terre and Grande-Terre, although the areas covered in Petite-Terre have been more numerous. “We choose not to reveal which beaches we patrol. This way, our presence plays a dissuasive role.”

These night patrols continue and fortunately, the climate in which they take place is much calmer than at the beginning of the operation—on 7 July, a vehicle belonging to the NGO was burned after poachers literally gave chase to patrollers.

“Although our presence on the beaches that we’re able to cover seems to dissuade would-be poachers, our volunteers are very much alone, and the guards responsible for protecting the turtles are usually absent from their posts,” a representative of the NGO explained. “For some, there is a clear lack of motivation, while others face a lack of resources for protection, which results in the turtles we’re supposed to be protecting being left vulnerable to the machetes of their torturers.”

The first team of volunteers is growing quickly, and the NGO’s goal is for a large number of Mayotte residents to get involved so that protection of the treasures of nature can take root locally and sustainably.

Journal de Mayotte

Absenteeism among the guards

As for the guards, the biggest problem has been absenteeism. When a team is supposed to be made up of four guards, but there are only two, it is difficult to contend against armed poachers. The guards are not allowed to be armed, not even with a chombo knife.

“We shouldn’t generalise about the guards,” Essemlali cautioned. “Poor cooperation from some of them has had an impact on the work of the ones who are doing their job.”

Unfortunately, some guards also conceal acts of poaching in the areas they are supposed to be safeguarding. They may return at dawn to bury the bodies of turtles that were butchered overnight, hiding both the massacre and their absence from their post.

Involving officials

Sea Shepherd is thus playing the role of the institutions and professionals that have been reproached for years for not fulfilling their duty of protecting nature. The first team of volunteers is growing quickly, and the NGO’s goal is for a large number of Mayotte residents to get involved so that protection of the treasures of nature can take root locally and sustainably.

This is one of the goals of the NGO’s special envoy, who will be spending several weeks in Mayotte. The envoy will also be in charge of making initial contacts with local officials who are willing to get involved to protect the treasures of our land and sea.

Rallying locals around the cause

“For the moment, we’re doing what we can, but we’re also completely open to whatever officials and volunteers in Mayotte can do, and we will be supporting them in their efforts,” said Essemlali. “We clearly have a lack of manpower for what needs to be done, and our fear is that poaching will move to the beaches that we are not yet patrolling.”

In the meantime, for the past few weeks, the Sea Shepherd team in Mayotte has had an unexpected and very effective ally. A stray dog that the team rescued and named Nyamba helps them detect the slightest presence on the beaches... including other dogs who can also present a danger for the turtles who come there to lay their eggs.

Anti-poaching efforts continue with the assistance of Nyamba, a street dog who was recruited to help ensure the safety of the patrols. Photo Sea Shepherd.
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