Amazon River Dolphins - Colombia - Omacha Foundation

WDC has supported the river dolphin conservation efforts of Fundacion Omacha and its Director, Fernando Trujillo, for over 20 years. Although based in Colombia, Fernando's work has taken him all over South America, leading conservation efforts to protect the three species of dolphin found living in freshwater habitats.

photograph of Omacha Field station in the Amazon, Colombia

WDC is a long-term supporter of Fundacion Omacha, an NGO based in Colombia in South America. Omacha means ‘pink dolphin’ in the local Ticuna Amazon Indian language. Fernando Trujillo is the Director of the Omacha Foundation and a South American river dolphin specialist. 

Regional Approach

Omacha is best known for its long term efforts to protect river dolphins in Colombia. More recently, Fernando has been spearheading efforts to develop regional strategies in South American countries to address river dolphin conservation issues. This is important as river dolphins are found in a total of 7 South American countries.

WDC supported Omacha and Faunagua (a Bolivian NGO), to organise a regional river dolphin workshop in 2008. This brought together people from all over South America to work together to develop a regional action plan for river dolphin conservation. The Plan will provide WDC and others with a blueprint for addressing river dolphin research and conservation priorities in the future. It is also important as a basis for more detailed national river dolphin action plans now being formulated.

Omacha has also been working regionally with South American NGOs organising joint expeditions to survey rivers to establish how many river dolphins there are surviving throughout South America and their current distribution.

Amazon river dolphin or boto above the surface

This is essential baseline information needed to assess their vulnerability in different areas and to understand their distribution. The survey results to date have highlighted areas where there are particularly low densities of river dolphins remaining and also areas where threats and conflicts are most severe.


In Colombia

Omacha’s work has helped develop long term biological and abundance studies in Colombia. Essential information on river dolphin behavioural and movement patterns, social life, ecology, abundance and conservation status and conflicts with fishermen has been obtained.


Addressing fisheries related threats

Amazon River dolphin above the surface swimming/porpoising The most obvious threats to Amazon River dolphins are conflicts with fisheries. These threats include injury and drowning (bycatch) in monofilament fishing nets; and injuries inflicted on river dolphins by frustrated, angry fishermen who see dolphins as competitors for fish. Education and outreach efforts are important in spreading the word about the importance of river dolphins in the freshwater ecosystem as a whole. Most local community fishermen who are fishing for themselves and immediate families accept that the dolphins live there too and need to eat. The problems are much greater, however, when addressing issues with commercial fishermen who are catching fish for sale and profit.


Omacha promotes sustainable fishing techniques which greatly reduce problems for river dolphins and other wildlife, and at the same time conserves fish stocks for future generations of local people. Omacha is working with fisheries agencies in an attempt to introduce some controls over fisheries in the Amazon and Orinoco regions which are largely unmanaged and unrestricted. Unregulated fisheries will undoubtedly lead to overexploitation of fish resources which is disastrous for people and river dolphins alike.


Hunting river dolphins for fish bait

Of most immediate concern is the relatively new practice of killing river dolphins so that fishermen targeting mota (an edible scavenger fish) can use decomposing dolphin carcasses to attract mota fish in large numbers. There is evidence that this fishery is expanding and increasingly large numbers of botos are being killed. Most of the dolphin hunting and mota fishing is taking place in Brazil (and also Peru) and most of the fish is being sold commercially to Colombia where it is distributed widely via supermarket chains.

Omacha is currently lobbying the Brazilian and Colombian Governments to put an end to this illegal practice of deliberate killing of river dolphins, as it has the potential to seriously threaten the future for botos in South America.

Omacha is also working with NGOs in Brazil to further evaluate the extent of the problem and make recommendations to bring this illegal activity under control to the Government. Possible solutions are: for the Colombian Government to prevent the ongoing import of mota, or at least mota from undisclosed sources; to ban the use of cages used in Brazil to hold decomposing river dolphin carcasses; to promote alternative synthetic attractants for mota to replace the need for dolphin carcasses; to inform the Colombian public about the methods used to catch mota and campaign for people to lobby the supermarkets and prevent them from selling mota.

Tackling serious conflicts between fishing communities and river dolphins is an essential part of river dolphin conservation efforts. Omacha is implementing a number of projects to address this. Some are aimed at developing economic alternatives for communities so that they are no longer solely reliant on fisheries. The aim is to provide alternative sources of income for local people so that they are not so reliant on fishing and therefore less likely to have conflicts with the dolphins.

 Film

WDC funded the making of a  documentary "The Pulse of the River" which exposes the truth behind the river dolphin slaughter for fish bait.  Please copy and paste this link to watch the film:

The film exposes the truth behind the fish sold in large quantities in supermarkets throughout Colombia.  The film shows people how river dolphins are cruelly killed, and their meat is then placed inside wooden crates and lowered into the river to attract carnivorous fish. Fishermen are then able to catch large quantities of fish in a short space of time.  They sell their catch to buyers who own freezer boats who transport it to the Colombian border where it is traded.  The film also looks at the dangerously high levels of mercury found in this carnivorous fish - making it unfit for human consumption on pure health grounds.

Amazon Naturalist Guide Training

WDC has supported Omacha to run a series of development projects including a large scale Amazon naturalist guide training programme. The aim is to provide training so that local people are able to provide good quality and educational guiding services for visitors to the Amazon. This guide training is important as it is also an opportunity for local people living in Amazon communities to learn more about river dolphins and their conservation needs and their importance as top predators and indicators of river health.

Very pink boto at the surface
Linked to the guide training programme are efforts to prevent fast speed boats from bringing people from Leticia dolphin watching. Omacha is helping promote dolphin watching from wooden canoes using local guides as a more environmentally-friendly activity which benefits local people and thus the wildlife of the area. The community in Puerto Nariño now have a set of wooden canoes beautifully carved and painted to look like Amazon animals; a boto, a caiman, an anaconda and a manatee. These are perfect for visitors to go out with local guides and learn about the river dolphins and other Amazon wildlife.

A further example is the encouragement of local craftspeople to develop their skills further and carve endangered species from sustainable forest resources for tourists to buy.