Ecuador national park provides sanctuary for endangered Amazon river dolphin

By Fernando Gimeno

Yasuni National Park, Ecuador, Jul 21 (EFE).- A sanctuary in the heart of Ecuador’s remote and jungle-covered Yasuni National Park provides much-needed protection for the Amazon river dolphin, a species coveted as bait and as a supposed aphrodisiac that is listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Located at the confluence of the Cocaya and Aguarico rivers, near Ecuador’s border with Peru, the idyllic refuge offers a rare opportunity to observe that iconic species (Inia geoffrensis) swim gracefully, frolic and even feed out of the hand of visitors to the Yaku Warmi community tourism center.

Those pink-colored river dolphins enjoy royalty status inside the sanctuary, which is located in the northeastern Ecuadorian province of Orellana and overseen by 40 families of the indigenous Martinica community.

They also are safe from being hunted for their meat or pungent blubber, which has an unsubstantiated reputation as an aphrodisiac.

Those cetaceans’ pink color is the main trait that distinguishes them from their saltwater cousins, although Amazon river dolphins also have smaller eyes, a hump instead of a dorsal fin and a much longer and pointier snout that allows them to obtain food in turbid waters and muddy riverbeds.

The unfused vertebrae in those dolphins’ necks also enable them to adeptly maneuver their 2.8-meter-long (9.1-foot-long), 180-kilo (400-pound) bodies among aquatic roots and vegetation.

A mysterious aura surrounds that freshwater species, which is alternatively known as the boto, bufeo or pink river dolphin and occupies a place in the cosmology of a far-flung Amazon culture that encompasses parts of Brazil, Colombian, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela and Bolivia.

Its mythical attributes include the ability to assume human form, particularly to transform itself into a “gringo” with pale-rosy skin, a robust physique and exceedingly handsome looks.

With his dashing appearance, irresistible personality and dancing prowess, as the myth goes, this supernatural figure is able to conquer the river communities’ most beautiful women, wooing them amid revelry and music and taking them away into the river.

But the Amazon river dolphin’s purported powers of seduction are really a curse for that species, whose blubber is coveted by fishermen to make “pusanga,” a product cynically sold as a fail-proof ointment that gives users irresistible powers of sexual attraction.

The pungent smell of that blubber also makes the Amazon river dolphin valuable to fishermen as bait for catching different species of fish.

And even when they are not being hunted, the botos are at constant risk from pollution caused by oil spills and the release of mercury and other toxic materials by artisanal and small-scale gold miners.

“Human beings are the most latent threat,” said the Orellana provincial government’s general coordinator of tourism, Vinicio Gomez, who recalled that since 2019 the Amazon river dolphin has been classified as endangered by the Switzerland-based IUCN.

In that regard, Gomez hailed the work being done at the Yaku Warmi community tourism center to provide a refuge for the dolphins.

“This space has become one of the main tourist attractions in Orellana province,” the official said, noting that it forms part of a route that stretches from Francisco De Orellana (a city also known as El Coca) to the border with Peru and provides visitors a tour of different Yasuni communities along the Napo River.

Visitors to that tourist center also can observe the boto harmoniously coexisting with the tucuxi (Sotalia fluviatilis), another species of Amazon freshwater dolphin that faces similar threats.

South American river turtles, snakes and various species of monkeys are among the other wildlife that inhabits that remote, pristine and captivating area of Amazonian Ecuador. EFE


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