The Bolivian River Dolphin: Conservation Ambassador of the Amazon

The Departmental Government of Beni (Bolivia) recently declared the Bolivian river dolphin, Inia boliviensis, as a Natural Heritage. This designation highlights the value placed on the conservation of this species and the freshwater ecosystems in the Beni province of northeastern Bolivia where it lives. The government committed to continuing its protection of this emblematic cetacean and pledged to strengthen measures to conserve the dolphin and its habitats.

This declaration is one more result of the first-ever South American river dolphin census led by WWF, Fundación Omacha and partners. Over 15 months from 2006 to 2007, scientists navigated over 2,000 miles between the Amazon and Orinoco rivers and their tributaries, surveying 13 rivers within five countries – Venezuela Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia – and counting more than 3,000 river dolphins.

The Bolivian river dolphin, known locally as the bufeo, was acknowledged by the scientific community as a new endemic species for Bolivia and is considered an important indicator of the quality of the freshwater ecosystems it inhabits. Scientific studies of the dolphin help measure and evaluate threats to these freshwater systems, including pollution from hydrocarbons and mercury and the impact of infrastructure projects such as dams and waterways.

WWF and local conservation organizations are using the survey results to implement conservation measures for this species. Future plans include a detailed evaluation of its distribution and abundance, the implementation of management and sustainable use strategies at local and regional levels, and the promotion of sustainable livelihoods.

“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”, remarked Fernando Trujillo, scientific director of Fundación Omacha, and leader of the 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 Madeira River on the Bolivian river dolphin populations.”

WWF has been at the forefront of protecting the Amazon for more than 40 years. Our approach has succeeded because we engage partners at all levels, such as Fundación Omacha, and the state and local governments of Boliva. Together, we identify mutual solutions to achieve our greatest successes.