River Dolphins In Bolivia
Bolivia has its very own river dolphin species (Inia boliviensis), locally the dolphins are known as 'bufeos'. On one hand, the bufeos are very special dolphins, as they are rare and only one found in Bolivia. However, this restricted habitat also makes the bufeos vulnerable with an uncertain future. The map on the left shows the known distribution of the dolphins in Bolivia.
The Madeira River is the Amazonís largest tributary; it flows from Bolivia into Brazil. This river drains practically the entire Bolivian Amazon region (66% of Bolivia). A Natural barrier (in the form of powerful waterfalls and rapids in a 400km stretch of river on the Bolivian-Brazilian border) has separated the dolphins from others in the Amazon basin and allowed the Bolivian species to evolve independently.
A New WDCS River Dolphin Project
WDCS is launching a new river dolphin project in Bolivia in response to this urgent need for information about the river dolphins and to raise awareness locally. We are working with Enzo Aliaga-Rossel and Mariana Escobar, the same Bolivian team who WDCS partnered to mount the successful rescue of 20 trapped river dolphins in 2010.
Bolivia does not currently have laws to explicitly protect bufeos. There are several known threats. In some areas of the Bolivian Amazon there is a perception that the bufeos compete with people for valuable fish resources. This perception results in people injuring or even killing bufeos. In addition, the government has plans to build dams in the area where the powerful waterfalls are found. Our concern is that when the natural seasonal flow of water is disrupted by dams, it could open up migration routes for fish and other animals who have been naturally isolated from one another. This can lead to extinctions.
Enzo and Mariana have been approached by an indigenous community in northern Bolivia who want to learn more about the river dolphins they share their homes and lives with. They are curious to know how many animals there are and the threats they face. They also want to understand whether dolphin watching opportunities might exist in their area. This is a fantastic opportunity for us to work with a community, and to exchange knowledge about the dolphins and their habitat. We hope that this project will be a step towards encouraging the community to protect the dolphins and other natural resources within a culture of conservation. We will also examine with the community and local government the possibility of river dolphin watching opportunities in the region.