Bolivian River Dolphin: Conservation Ambassador for the Department of Beni in Bolivia
Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, April 2008. The Bolivian river dolphin (Inia boliviensis) was declared by the Prefecture of the Department of Beni (northeastern Bolivia) as a Natural Heritage. This recognition highlights the value placed on the conservation of this species, the freshwater ecosystems in the Beni where it lives and the country in general.
“Once we knew that the Inia boliviensis lives in over 90% of the Beni and that it is an endemic species with a healthy conservation status, we decided to declare it an emblematic species and Natural Heritage of the Department of Beni, through a Prefectural Resolution”, stated Ms. Ana Karina Bello, from the Office for Natural Resources and the Environment within the Prefecture of Beni. “Our next steps will be towards strengthening measures to conserve the species and its habitats, and that is why we seek the national recognition regarding this declaration through our National Congress and passing of a specific law.”
The Bolivian river dolphin, known locally as the as bufeo, was acknowledged by the scientific community as a new endemic species for Bolivia and considered an important indicator regarding the quality of the freshwater ecosystems where it lives. For scientific study purposes this is fundamental because it allows measuring and evaluating threats, such as those presented by pollution from hydrocarbons and mercury and the construction of infrastructure projects such as dams and waterways.
Organizations such as WWF Bolivia, the NGO FaunAgua and authorities of the Iténez Protected Area – where the Bolivian river dolphin has important populations – celebrated the occasion and expressed “this is a highly valuable opportunity to generate joint actions towards freshwater ecosystem conservation in the Department of Beni, as well as of other associated species such as the caiman (Caiman yacare), the giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) and the river turtle (Podocnemis unifilis), among others.”
In order to implement conservation measures for this species, Bolivian and other South American conservation organizations plan to carry out a detailed evaluation of its distribution and abundance, implement management and sustainable use strategies at local and regional levels, in order to promote sustainable productive alternatives such as responsible tourism, with direct participation of local communities.
“River dolphins are seriously threatened and in danger of extinction in other continents, such as Asia. Nonetheless, South America, and particularly Bolivia, still have river dolphin populations in relatively good conservation status”, ensured Mr. Fernando Trujillo, scientific director of Fundación Omacha, and leader of the first South American river dolphin census. “We still have time to implement necessary measures to prevent South American river dolphins following the same fate as the Asian species. For example, we urgently need to know the potential impact of the proposed hydroelectric dams in the Madera River on the Inia boliviensis populations.”
1. This declaration of the Bolivian dolphin as Natural Heritage is one more result of the South American river dolphin census, carried out during 15 months in 2006-07 along 13 rivers of the continent, within 5 countries: in Venezuela, the Orinoco river; in Ecuador, the Cuyabeno, Lagarto, Tasuní and Napo watersheds; in Bolivia, Ichilo, Mamore and Itenez rivers; in Peru, Samiria and Marañon rivers; and in Colombia, the Meta river. Additionally, the Amazon and Javari watersheds (Peru and Colombia) were part of the expedition.
2. Fundación Omacha, Fundación La Salle, FaunAgua, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) and WWF, the global conservation organization, participated in this initiative.
3. The census brought a total figure of 3,188 river dolphins counted, having navigated 3,593 km between the Amazon and Orinoco rivers and its tributaries, in Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Colombia.
This declaration of the Bolivian dolphin as Natural Heritage is one more result of the South American river dolphin census, carried out during 15 months in 2006-07 along 13 rivers of the continent, within 5 countries: in Venezuela, the Orinoco river; in Ecuador, the Cuyabeno, Lagarto, Tasuní and Napo watersheds; in Bolivia, Ichilo, Mamore and Itenez rivers; in Peru, Samiria and Marañon rivers; and in Colombia, the Meta river. Additionally, the Amazon and Javari watersheds (Peru and Colombia) were part of the expedition.
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