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Preserving the Treasures of the Amazon

Jaguar in the Ecuadorian Amazon

Credits: Lucas Bustamante/CI-Ecuador


  • The Amazon region is home to 10% of the world's known species, and there is still much to discover.
  • Many Amazonian species are threatened by habitat loss, environmental crimes such as poaching and other human activities.
  • The Amazon Sustainable Landscapes Program has projects in seven countries in the region, working with communities to address these issues.

The Amazon region is an example of the immense biodiversity of our planet. The region is home to 10% of the world's known species, and there is still much to be discovered. The animal and plant species that inhabit the Amazon contribute to its delicate balance. Biodiversity generates ecosystem goods and services that are the basis of the Amazon region's economies, providing access to food, water, housing, energy, and even medicines. It also plays a fundamental role in climate regulation, prevention of soil erosion and pollination, processes that sustain ecosystem functioning and help mitigate the impacts of climate change. However, various threats such as habitat loss or fragmentation, deforestation and degradation, and environmental crimes, put these species at risk, calling for immediate action.  

Today, on World Endangered Species Day, we will highlight three emblematic species of the region that face imminent threats and some actions carried out by projects of the Amazon Sustainable Landscapes Program (ASL) led by the World Bank with resources from the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Amazon River Dolphin (Inia geoffrensis): 

Amazon River Dolphins

Credits: Coulanges/Shutterstock

Also known as the Amazon dolphin, boto, bufeo or pink river dolphin, this species plays the role of an umbrella species, that is, its presence is an indicator of the health of river ecosystems. Its distribution extends throughout Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela, and its habitat requires large-scale connectivity to ensure the viability of the populations. It is currently classified as an endangered species by the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), due to habitat fragmentation, the construction of dams, the pollution of rivers and lakes by extractive activities, and the direct hunting of individuals to be used as bait for fishing for the Mota or Piracatinga (Calophysus macropterus).  

Several projects and initiatives are working daily to preserve the species and its habitats. In Peru, the project “Securing the Future of Peru's National Protected Areas”, with technical support from WWF and implementation by the National Service of Natural Areas Protected by the State of Peru (SERNANP), has launched an initiative for the public to contribute to the conservation of the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve in the department of Loreto, which is home to a large population of pink dolphins. Under the name “Naturaleza que Cuido” (Nature that I Care For), this initiative facilitates donations to support this reserve.  

At the regional level, since 2006, there has been an initiative to estimate the abundance of river dolphins in South America, led by local organizations in the six countries where the species is present. This initiative has traveled the main rivers of the Amazon and Orinoco basins, counting individuals, as well as recording information regarding the conservation of their habitat. This data has promoted advocacy actions for the creation of action plans, expansion of protected areas and establishment of biological corridors for these species, measuring the health of the rivers and monitoring the conservation status of the dolphins by using technology such as satellite tracking, and the work with local communities to control fishing activities and reduce conflicts. 

From the ASL, management initiatives are promoted in areas of importance for this species, such as Ramsar Sites, strengthening the governance of these spaces, through the establishment of rules and conditions for the use and exploitation of fishery resources in these sites. 

Freshwater Turtles:

River Turtles in Brazil

Credits: José Caminha/Secom

The Amazon rainforest is also home to several species of turtles, which fulfill various roles that are vital to the ecosystems. Frugivore species disperse seeds over vast areas, helping forest regeneration and promoting plant diversity. Other turtles are omnivorous and insectivorous, contributing to nutrient cycling, both in the water and on land, by feeding on plants, insects and carrion. They also occupy key positions in the food web: larger species, such as the Arrau turtle (Podocnemis expansa), control prey populations and smaller species serve as food for other animals.  

Several species of Amazonian turtles, such as the six-tubercled Amazon River turtle (Podocnemis sextuberculata), the yellow-spotted Amazon River turtle (Podocnemis unifilis) and the Arrau turtle (Podocnemis expansa) face increasing threats, such as habitat loss, illegal trafficking and overexploitation of their meat, eggs and oil, resulting in their inclusion in the IUCN Red List.  

Fortunately, there are several initiatives for their protection and conservation. For example, in 2022, the ASL-Brazil project, with support from the World Bank, achieved through monitoring actions that 280 thousand turtle hatchlings were released, increasing their chances of reaching adulthood. This is crucial because due to hunting and natural predators, of every thousand hatchlings released, only 1 or 2 reach the adult stage. Through the same project, the communities have been encouraged to start sustainable breeding in excavated tanks, allowing a new source of income through commercialization authorized by the Government of the State of Amazonas. As a result of this initiative, in 2023, more than 274 thousand hatchlings were released in the Middle Juruá Territory, contributing to the conservation of these species and the ecosystem. 

 Jaguar (Panthera onca):

Jaguar in the Ecuadorian Amazon

Credits: Lucas Bustamante/CI-Ecuador

The jaguar, one of the world's largest feline species, holds a crucial place in both ecological balance as an apex predator, and cultural significance as a vital element in the cosmovision of Amazonian indigenous peoples. Unfortunately, habitat fragmentation, poaching and human-wildlife conflicts threaten its existence. Currently, the Amazon is home to nearly 90% of the total jaguar population, approximately 57,000 individuals (Quigley et al., 2018). Conservation initiatives, including anti-poaching patrols with community participation and the restoration of ecological corridors, are essential to ensure the survival of this iconic species.

The “Biodiversity conservation and sustainable management of two priority landscapes in the Ecuadorian Amazon Region” project, part of the ASL with technical support from Conservation International, will contribute to improving forest protection in the key landscapes of  Yasuni – Limoncocha and Palora-Pastaza in Ecuador. Itincludes specific activities for the preservation of the habitat of species such as the jaguar and the corridor that allows its mobility.  

The Amazon River dolphin, the Amazonian turtles and the jaguar are just some of the emblematic species of the Amazon's biodiversity and their survival depends on conservation actions at the regional level and joint work between local governments, non-governmental organizations, academic institutions and local communities.


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