Nature and Biodiversity

Prey to project: Fishermen and scientists have teamed up to save Bolivia's pink river dolphins

fishermen who used to hunt rare pink dolphins in Bolivia's Amazon jungle are now working to understand the species better

"Everything that affects dolphins affects the humans that use those resources." Image: UNSPLASH/Peter Burdon

Monica Machicao
Reuters, Journalist
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Nature and Biodiversity

  • Fishermen who once hunted Bolivia's pink rare dolphins are now working with researchers to improve their understanding of the species and help their survival.
  • The fishermen are monitoring the dolphins' behavior and giving scientists clues about the threats they face.
  • This work has given fishermen a new perspective on how they can co-exist with the dolphins, by protecting habitats, ecosystems and mutual resources.

Fishermen who once angled for rare pink river dolphins are working with researchers in Bolivia's Amazon jungle in a high-tech bid to assure the species' survival and better understand their needs.

Scientists with global environmental group WWF and Bolivian NGO Faunagua recently tagged four freshwater dolphins in the Ichilo river using satellite technology that allows fishermen to use a mobile phone app to report their locations.

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"They (the fishermen) hunted the dolphins to use them as bait for fishing," said Paul Van Damme, of Faunagua. "(Now) we are raising their awareness and including them as researchers and scientists."

Despite the iconic status of river dolphins, little is known about their populations and habitats, according to WWF. Fishermen who still frequent the rivers will report what dolphins eat, how far they migrate and give scientists clues about the threats they face.

A Pink River Dolphin swims in the Negro River in Novo Airao city, northern Brazil. Image: REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

It gives fishermen a new perspective on a species that has long been their prey, said Lila Sainz, head of Bolivia's WWF.

"Everything that affects dolphins affects the humans that use those resources," said Sainz. "So, if dolphins are doing well, people are doing well."


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Bolivia's vast Amazon rainforest is critical habitat for a wide range of species, from dolphins to toucans and jaguars, whose existence is being threatened by deforestation, upriver dams, forest fires and development.

Reporting by Monica Machicao; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Richard Chang

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