Preserving the Boto: The threatened existence of a culture and species in the Amazon River Basin.

The boto, a main focus in the folklore of the Amazon River Basin, is regarded as a sacred creature, seducing women and impregnating them. The tale has a few natural variations, but one of the well-known aspects is that the boto is a danger to eat and kill. This supernatural fish is used for cultural and medicinal purposes, but the fishing industry is threatening their ability to survive.

Despite the sacred nature of the boto and its meaning for the Amazon River Basin, fishermen are killing the boto throughout much of their habitat. They’re after a much more sought after catfish, the piracatinga, a delicacy in Brazil and Colombia. The boto population is decreasing by the thousands. Only about 30,000 of them exist in the Amazon River Basin. The threatened species is on a decline, looking at the possibility of extinction if the fishing industry doesn’t slow down.

In 2014, Brazil took a step to combat the declining boto population by placing a fishing ban on the piracatinga. Taking effect in 2015 and lasting until 2020, this ban will ideally help reverse the decline of the boto population and allow them time to find an alternative bait for catching piracatinga.

Other places, like the Amazon River Dolphin Conservation Foundation (ARDCF) are trying to help the boto through research, education, and collaboration. The ARDCF is currently achieving this through photo identification, boto behavioral observation data, population surveys, and conservation education for tourists and others who visit the area. The ARDCF is hoping to eventually implement a tracking system that will allow them to monitor the boto as well.

With support from the World Wildlife Foundation’s Living Amazon Initiative, conservative efforts outside the ARDCF have also taken on the challenge of protecting the boto and its ecosystem. From 2007 to 2010, over 5000km of rivers were studied by scientists, leading to the most accurate estimation of the boto population. A regional action plan was developed alongside the sustainable fishing plan and has been presented in several international groups.

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