Trinidad, Bolivia — To mark the annual World Wetlands Day, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance has designated its largest site ever. At more than 6.9 million hectares, the Llanos de Moxos wetland is equivalent to the size of the Netherlands and Belgium together. The wetlands are prized for their rich natural diversity, as well as their cultural value.
The Llanos de Moxos, located near the borders of Bolivia, Peru and Brazil, consists of tropical savannas with cyclical droughts and floods. These wetlands are especially prized for their rich natural diversity: 131 species of mammals have been identified to date, 568 different birds, 102 reptiles, 62 amphibians, 625 fish and at least 1,000 plant species. Several species – including the giant otter and the Bolivian river dolphin – have been identified as vulnerable, endangered or at critical risk of extinction.
“WWF applauds the government of Bolivia for taking bold action to protect these vital ecosystems,” said Jim Leape, WWF International Director General. “The Amazon basin, covering nine countries, supports native species and the millions of people who live there – and plays an essential role in regulating the climate we all depend on. Healthy wetlands support the proper functioning of the whole Amazon.”
Among the birdlife in danger of extinction is the Blue-throated macaw (Ara glaucogularis), a species endemic to Bolivia, inhabiting the seasonably-flooded Beni Lowlands (Llanos de Moxos) of Central Bolivia. The population is around only 200-300, confined to an area of not more than 4000 km2. The species is at critical risk of extinction given its low numbers, the threat from the destruction of its habitats and illegal poaching by people using the birds as pets or for their feathers, which are widely prized for decorating traditional festive costumes.
The Bolivian River Dolphin (Inia boliviensis), locally known as the “Bolivian Bufeo”, was recognized recently as a river dolphin unique to Bolivia, unlike the I. geoffrensis which is found throughout the Central Amazon and the Orinoco River Basin. The I. boliviensis inhabits the Mamoré subbasin, upstream from Cachuelas area, and the Itenéz subbasin. Around 90% of its distribution is in Bolivian territory, with the remainder in Brazil (Tavera et al. 2011). A number of different threats include in particular the hydro infrastructure works taking place within and near (to the north) of their habitat (Tavera et al. 2011), and for this reason it is classified as an endangered species. The Bolivian Government has officially declared this freshwater dolphin as a natural heritage species, a national treasure of the Bolivian Plurinational State.
The situation of the londra or giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) was extremely critical until the late 1980s due to intensive commercial exploitation of its valuable skin (Tarifa 1996). Despite the populations of londra currently undergoing a slow process of recovery, they are still very isolated in terms of distribution, and the destruction of their habitat continues to threaten the survival of the species. The giant otter is therefore considered to be a species in danger of extinction. The largest populations in Bolivia can be found in the middle and high basin of the Iténez River. Recent studies have discovered that these populations in fact constitute a species different from those found elsewhere. At present the population of londra in the whole of Latin America is estimated at between approximately 1000 and 3000 individuals, of which 500 live in Bolivia - representing between 50% and 16% of the estimated total.
The Pampas Deer (Ozotocerus bezoarticus) is widely distributed throughout Bolivia but lives only in open dry or semi-forested environments such as the scrub forest (cerrado) and the lowland grasslands. It is increasingly rare to observe the species in the wild on account of it being a target for poachers, and because its habitat is being drastically reduced by the competition for space and food presented by cattle. It is currently on the endanged species list.
Petas de rio (Podocnemis expansa and P. unifilis) or Magdalena River Turtles are found, according to recent studies, in ever-decreasing numbers in Bolivia. They are a valuable source of protein, eggs and oil for indigenous communities. The species falls into the ‘endangered species’ and ‘vulnerable to extinction’ categories respectively.