• 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.

"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."


What is the World Economic Forum doing about nature?

Biodiversity loss and climate change are occurring at unprecedented rates, threatening humanity’s very survival. Nature is in crisis, but there is hope. Investing in nature can not only increase our resilience to socioeconomic and environmental shocks, but it can help societies thrive.

There is strong recognition within the Forum that the future must be net-zero and nature-positive. The Nature Action Agenda initiative, within the Platform for Accelerating Nature-based Solutions, is an inclusive, multistakeholder movement catalysing economic action to halt biodiversity loss by 2030.

Dynamic and flourishing natural ecosystems are the foundation for human wellbeing and prosperity. The Future of Nature and Business report found that nature-positive transitions in key sectors are good for the economy and could generate up to $10.1 trillion in annual business value and create 395 million jobs by 2030.

To support these transitions, the Platform for Accelerating Nature-based Solutions has convened a community of Champions for Nature promoting the sustainable management of the planet for the good of the economy and society. The Nature Action Agenda also recently launched the 100 Million Farmers initiative, which will drive the transition of the food and agriculture system towards a regenerative model, as well as the BiodiverCities by 2030 initiative to create an urban development model that is in harmony with nature.

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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