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Ceulan - A Life to Remember

Posted: Sunday 16th December 2012 by Emyr MWT

Dyfi Osprey CeulanDyfi Osprey Ceulan

Ceulan has died.

Late afternoon to early evening on December 1st, he dived into the Diawel River, a tributary of the Senegal River 3.7 miles to the south, looking for fish. He'd caught fish here many times before. Ceulan got tangled up in fishing nets and was unable to free himself. A local fisherman checking his nets found him the following morning and took his body to his nearby fishing camp, where he remained for the following two weeks.

The map below shows his position (left) where Ceulan got tangled up in nets and the fisherman's camp where he was taken to the following morning.


Dyfi Osprey Ceulans last location

Ceulan knew this river well. Very well. The map below show all his GPS points - just look how often he frequented this area. He must have got to know it like the back of his talon. He was on to a good thing, the Diawel River must have been teeming with fish.

Dyfi Osprey Ceulan tracker data 

When we received Ceulan's GPS data on December 5th, I thought it looked a bit odd with him being at the same location for several days. We had seen this before though hadn't we, when Ceulan chose to rest on those huge electricity pylons for days on end in November? It was with slight trepidation I checked in with the ARGOS satellite system for his next data download on December 11th. He was still in the same place and the activity readings on the tracker hadn't changed either (they had on the electricity pylon saga). It was almost certain that the tracker was not moving - our only hope was that Ceulan's tracker had fallen off him and that he was OK.

We asked our friend Frederic again whether he could help, and on Saturday, December 15th, he along with his two sons and some colleagues went looking for Ceulan.

There is a tiny village (top right of first map above) with four families living around half a mile from where Ceulan got into trouble. Frederic asked one of the men in the village whether he knew anything about an osprey in the area.

(All the following images taken by Frederic and his colleagues)

Frederic talks to one of the village members, Oumar Diallo, about Ceulan.
Dyfi Osprey tracking down Ceulan

Oumar explained to Frederic that a few days before he had untangled a dead osprey from his fishing net on the Diawel River. The osprey had a leg ring and a satellite transmitter. Oumar had tried to contact someone in the UK with the information he could see on the tracker, but to no avail. He then kept Ceulan's body in case anyone came to look for him and when Frederic got there on Saturday,  Oumar immediately gave him the body.

Oumar and two other men from the village hand Ceulan to Fredric's adopted son, Sidiki.
Dyfi Osprey Ceulans Body

The image below shows the area where Ceulan was discovered on the banks of the Diawel River, just the other side of the land bridge

Diawel River

The following email is from Paul Wildlifewriter. With permission..

Hi Ems,

The attached image may provide some more insight as to what has happened.
We know that Ceulan was still active during the day on 1/12/12 and that he
was at a usual fishing spot that evening. Untypically, it appears that he
did not fly back to roost that night.  I think that this is when and where
the accident happened.

Fish collection after flood recession is a traditional activity right along
the Senegal River flood plain.  At the beginning of the summer rainy season,
fish migrate upriver and disperse into the tributaries and irrigation canals
to breed.  Research has identified this behaviour in twelve different west
African species, and there may be more.

At the end of the rains, fields are drained for crop harvesting and at the
same time, static nets and fish traps are set out to collect the fish which
are attempting to return to the main river.  These nets are often set at or
near the many sluice gates which control local water levels.

*(I had a photograph of exactly this arrangment, taken in S. Mauretania, but
at the moment I can't find it.)

Unfortunately, fish struggling in or behind a net would be a tempting target
for a young osprey, and it's not difficult to imagine what would have
happened next.

Dyfi Osprey Ceulan's position

Thanks Paul.

The following is from an email that Frederic has just sent me. He's talking about the same thing as Paul, and the rush to get the fish harvested (so they can eat them throughout the winter) before the whole area dries up.  

"In this period, fishermen are so occupied by the fishing activities before the drought that they don't have time to hunt or something like that. We asked them if they know this bird, they said 'no' but I am sure they see them every year, more and more but they are may be confusing birds... Already I am sure it is not the first time they catched by accident a bird in their nets: they are so numerous in the water, in activity or not, usually abandoned when it is impossible to use them…

- I think it is really an accident: Oumar Diallo who found Ceulan immediatly went in his hut and got away in a few seconds with the materials (he means tracker and rings); another man went a few minutes later with the two wings."

So there we are, we seem to have answers to our questions. Ceulan was unlucky - he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I think it is very important to understand something about the way that Ceulan died however. Have a look at the image below that Frederic took of the people in these four huts on Saturday..  

Fishing village where Ceulan was found

These people are desperately poor. No clean water, no education for their children, no electricity, no cars, no nothing. They live in straw huts a few feet square and eke out a living in one of the most inhospitable places imaginable. These are not commercial fisherman with profits to make. Their only goal is to survive and eat for that day. Period.

The fish that they catch during this shortest of fishing seasons, are placed on supports they make out of straw and branches.

Drying fish

The fish are then dried in the sun and stored away so that they have enough to live on throughout the dry winter months. It won't rain in Senegal for another six months.

Dried fish

We are hugely indebted once again to Frederic, his sons and his friends. Thank you so much Frederic for helping us out. Frederic has his own blog (French) that you can see here.

These are the guys that went out on Saturday and found Ceulan:

Frederic Bacuez (France), Ornithondar
Moïse Guiré (Burkina Faso)
Sidiki Boukary Ouedraogo (Côte d'Ivoire/Burkina Faso), my second adoptive son
Xavier Dressler (France), driver
Morgan Perez (France), civil service for development in Gandon

Merci à vous tous



Ceulan taught us so much in his short life. So much so, I will write a blog over the Christmas period about this remarkable little osprey. Even as he died, he was still teaching us about how tough it is being an osprey in the first year of life.

This year, Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust is 30 years old. We are a small charity with a handful of full time staff, around half a dozen, and about the same amount of part-time staff. Despite this, in a few weeks we start work an ambitious £1.4 million project to build a 360° Observatory on Cors Dyfi Reserve. We are all very excited. It will be the first of its kind and will allow everyone that visits to see, discover and learn about the natural world around them.

We have also just started work linking in with west African communities. Educating people about what happened to Ceulan and other ospreys will, eventually, make a difference. The Rutland guys are already starting to see results with their West African Project.

Ceulan did not die in vain. From our new 360 Observatory we will carry on his legacy - we will teach and educate thousands of people every year about his remarkable life. We have photographs and videos and stories to tell. In life and in death, Ceulan taught us more about the perils of being an osprey than any other bird I know. The sooner we get this Observatory built, the sooner we can tell more people about Ceulan and his battles for survival. He will be an ambassador for his species and will ultimately lead to ospreys being more secure in what is a dangerous world for them. We'll make sure of that.

Ceulan only lived to be six months old, but what a remarkable life he had. A Life to Remember.

Dyfi Osprey Ceulan


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