Cultural importance and decline of sawfish (Pristidae) populations in West Africa
For a few decades, the decline of sawfish populations has been observed in all parts of their distribution range. Sawfishes are particularly sensitive to exploitation and habitat destruction because of their large size and their coastal and riverine habitats. InWest Africa, sawfishes were relatively common in the past, but nowadays, they are rarely caught or observed. A group of West African countries, under the leadership of the Commission sous-régionale des Pêches, was willing to submit an application for the listing of the sawfishes in CITES appendix 1. This caused the necessity to assess the present status of the species and populations of sawfishes occurring in West Africa, and to collect data on the cultural importance of the sawfishes for some ethnic groups. In this scope, a field study was carried out from March to June 2005, in Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia Guinea Bissau, and Guinea Conakry. This study confirms the strong contraction of the distribution range of sawfishes in West Africa: they are mainly limited to the Bissagos Archipelago (Guinea Bissau), where cultural practices related to sawfish symbolism are still in use. A description of the rostrums observed during this survey is provided.