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Flowing in a giant arc from Colombia and Venezuela all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, the Orinoco is one of the longest rivers in South America, its basin and flooded forests home to rich plant and animal life. But threats loom on the horizon for one of the most intact river systems in the world.

Waterfall in La Llovizna park, Puerto Ordaz, Orinoco basin, Venezuela rel= © istockphoto / Ronald Morales

An epic journey
Beginning high in the Sierra Parima Mountains of Venezuela and Brazil, the Orinoco River flows through impenetrable rainforest, flooded forests, vast grasslands and a wide delta before ending its epic journey at the Atlantic Ocean.

These waters are home to the critically endangered Orinoco crocodile, river dolphins, giant river otters, the giant anaconda and more than 1,000 fish species.

It is also a hub for rich birdlife, including flamingos, colourful parrots and the scarlet ibis.

In good condition

Compared to many of the world’s river systems, the Orinoco is relatively intact.

But this may not last for long as the river and its surrounding areas are threatened by pollution and mining activities.

Large areas of the flooded forests have been cleared for agriculture and cattle ranching. And large dams planned for several major tributaries will destroy water flows that support the region’s unique aquatic life.

WWF is working on the ground in Venezuela and Colombia with local communities to protect one of South America's most important rivers.
The critically endangered Orinoco crocodile is the largest predator in South America. 
The critically endangered Orinoco crocodile is the largest predator in South America.

Sunset at the Orinoco Delta. rel= © iStockPhoto / Birgit Prentner

River dolphins at risk

Spotting a dolphin on the Orinoco River. © WWF
River dolphins swim in some of the world's mightiest rivers, including the Orinoco. But their numbers are constantly being threatened by pollution, boat traffic, fishing and dams.

A recent survey of South America's river dolphins counted 3,188 pink river dolphins (Inia geoffrensis) and grey river dolphins (Sotalia fluviatilis) in 3,600km of rivers in the Amazon and Orinoco basins. The survey will help conservationists develop strategies to protect these endangered freshwater species and their habitat.
Where is the Orinoco?
The Orinoco is highlighted in brown.

View WWF Critical Regions of the World in a larger map

Facts & Figures

  • Flowing 2,140km (1,330 miles), the Orinoco River is the third largest in South America.
  • The Orinoco Basin, covering 880,000km2, lies between Venezeula and Colombia.
  • Some 200 major and 600 minor tributaries flow into the Orinoco.
  • Combined, the Orinoco and Amazon Rivers account for 25% of the freshwater discharge to the world’s oceans.
  • To date, 17,420 species of plants, 1,300 species of birds, more than 1,000 species of fish, 250 mammals and 119 reptiles have been recorded in the area.
  • The name Orinoco means 'a place to paddle' in the indigenous Warao language.