Counting River Dolphins
Trinidad, Bolivia - The River Dolphin Monitoring initiative for South America, a year long joint effort carried out by Fundación Omacha (Colombia), The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) and WWF Colombia in the Amazon and Orinoquia: Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela, is nearing its end. On June 22nd, the trip along the Rivers Ichilo (Santa Cruz and Cochabamba) and Mamoré (Beni) concluded, and in July, in coordination with the Bolivian General Management for Biodiversity (DGB in Spanish), Faunagua and WWF Bolivia, the Itenez River (Beni, Bolivia) will be the last leg of this continental monitoring effort.
In Venezuela (June, 2006) the results of the expedition observed 270 dolphins, while in Ecuador (July, 2006) 40 were sighted. The results for Colombia (August, 2006) reported 131 Amazon River Dolphins (Inia geoffrensis); in Peru (September 2006) 818 were reported for both Amazon River Dolphin (Inia geoffrensis) and Tucuxi (Sotalia fluviatilis).
During the 240 km trip along the Amazonas, Atacuarí and Javarí rivers, between Colombia, Brazil and Peru (February, 2007), the group of scientists from the Fundación Omacha spotted 520 dolphins and expressed that the results obtained from previous expeditions indicate that the population of dolphin in the Amazon River is healthier versus the one in the Orinoco River. The Amazon River in Colombia shows that, although the species faces several threats, it has been able to survive.
In spite of healthy population, the census along the Amazon River did expose the serious threats that directly affect this ecosystem. The drastic deforestation process caused by illegal logging and burning, as well as infrastructure development projects, added to contamination and climate change, are rapidly destroying the most important extension of natural forest in the world.
River dolphins, referred to in Bolivia as bufeos, are one of the most threatened aquatic mammals worldwide, mainly because of the negative interaction with fishing and deterioration of their habitat caused by the construction of hydroelectric plants, mercury and hydrocarbon pollution, as well as large scale deforestation – all of which directly affects the presence and distribution of fish (which the River dolphin depend on as their food source). The conservation status of river dolphins is thus also an indicator of the conservation status of the regions themselves where they inhabit, which are rich in biodiversity and of great importance for maintaining an ecological balance.
According to Mr. Saulo Usma, WWF Colombia, “the conclusion of the census in Bolivia generates great expectations since there is also a different species, Inia boliviensis, and this will be the first opportunity for studying the species”. “With the census in Bolivia we will have concrete results regarding the status of the river dolphin populations in the Orinoco and Amazon watersheds and, most importantly, we will consolidate the necessary information in order to implement a conservation strategy for this emblematic species”.
On June 23rd the Prefecture of the Beni organized a promotional event on the Flotel Reina del Enín (a floating hotel) to inform upon the tourism potential in the area, as well as diverse conservation projects that are underway in this area of the Bolivian Amazon carried out by the NGO Faunagua, WCS, Fundación Omacha and WWF.