24 NOVEMBER 2017
Leading Colombian conservationist secures safer future for threatened pink river dolphins of South America under threat from illegal hunting
Whitley Fund for Nature Gold Award winner achieves Amazonian triumph in the fight to save threatened river dolphins
After many years of campaigning, 2007 Whitley Fund for Nature Gold Award
winner, Dr Fernando Trujillo has succeeded in his fight to get the Colombian
Government to ban the trade of mota fish, which are baited using the flesh of
pink river dolphins.
Through his work over the last thirty years as a biologist, and the funding he
has received from British Wildlife charity, the Whitely Fund for Nature,
Fernando has carried out dolphin surveys on over 28,000km stretches of river
in South America on 28 expeditions, training 396 people along the way.
However, this is no straightforward species conservation story. The Amazon is a
complex place with over 34 million people and a landscape that has been
ravaged by logging for natural resources including wood, gold and rubber
which hit the headlines in the 1990s. Twelve years ago fisherman began using
the pink river dolphin to bait mota fish (a type of catfish or piracatinga as it is
known in Brazil). A dolphin’s oily blubber makes excellent bait for these fish.
However, there is a high level of mercury present in the river due to pollution
from irresponsible mining. As scavengers, catfish contain dangerously high
levels of mercury which is making its way into the food chain and on to
people’s plates. Widely eaten across South America, the consumption of
these toxic mota fish has become not only a threat to dolphins killed to bait
them, but a risk to human health.
Fernando has campaigned tirelessly and often at great personal risk to halt
the trade in mota with a ban passed by the government of Colombia in
August 2017. On announcing the new ban, Dr Trujillo said: “I started my
campaign as people living in Colombian cities were buying this fish in their
local supermarkets, without any idea of its origins, nor the fact that pink river
dolphins were being killed and used as bait as well as being unaware of the
risk to human health through mercury poisoning.
“However, it was not enough to just get the fisherman to change their way of
life. Through my Foundation Omacha, I have worked with them to find other
solutions to this problem. Omacha has been encouraging economic
alternatives to fishing to protect dolphin and other river species – such as
sustainable dolphin-watching, craftsmanship, and a dolphin-friendly fish
certification scheme working with fishermen and local women.”
In 2007, Dr Trujillo won the Whitley Gold Award for his work with Omacha.
“Omacha”, which means “pink dolphin” in the Tikuna indigenous
language, is also what the indigenous Colombians call Trujillo. Over the
past decade he has received over £420,000 from the Whitley Fund for
Nature to support his work.
On Thursday 30th November Dr Trujillo will be speaking to BBC presenter
Kate Humble about his lifelong work in the Amazon and the ban on mota
fish at an event hosted by the Whitely Fund for Nature at the Royal
Geographical Society, London. His talk will also include excerpts from ‘A
River Below’ – a recent award-winning film which features Fernando and
premiered at the TRIBECA Film Festival in New York.
Notes to editors:
For images about the film, more information about Dr Trujillo’s work and the funding he received as part of his Whitley Gold Award, please contact:
About Dr Fernando Trujillo
- Dr Fernando Trujillo, from Bogota, Colombia, is the world’s leading expert on river dolphins and a pre-eminent scientist in South America.
- In 1993 he created the Omacha Foundation to promote conservation of river
species and their eco-systems across South America through education and
research. Since then Omacha has become a world leader for its work in this
- In 2007 Dr Trujillo received the prestigious Whitley Gold Award for conservation
and his foundation received £50,000 to further this work in the Amazon and
- In 2014, he was also awarded WFN Partnership Funding by Fondation
Segré, worth 337,500 euros over three years.
- Dr Trujillo’s talk will take place at the Royal Geographical Society on Thursday 30th November, hosted by Kate Humble. Tickets are available at
About the Whitely Fund for Nature
- The Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) is a UK registered charity that champions outstanding grassroots leaders in nature conservation across the developing world.
- The Whitley Awards are prestigious international prizes presented to individuals in recognition of their achievements in nature conservation. Each Award Winner receives a prize worth £40,000 in project funding over one year. The charity’s patron, HRH The Princess Royal, presents the Awards each year at a special ceremony in London.
- The Whitley Awards have been presented annually since 1994. Since then, the Whitley Fund for Nature has given over £14 million to conservation and
recognised 190 conservation leaders in over 80 countries.
- The Whitley Awards are open to individuals working on wildlife conservation
issues in developing countries.
- Whitley Award winners join an international network of Whitley Award alumni eligible to apply for Continuation Funding Grants. These follow-on grants are awarded competitively to winners seeking to scale up their effective
conservation results on the ground over 1-2 years.
- The Whitley Gold Award, which Fernando was awarded in 2007, recognises an outstanding past recipient of a Whitley Award who has gone on to make a
significant contribution to conservation. Joining the Judging Panel to assist in
selection, the Gold winner also acts as mentor to Whitley Award winners
receiving their Awards in the same year.
- WFN is generously supported by: The Arcus Foundation; The William Brake
Charitable Trust; The Byford Trust; Sarah Chenevix-Trench; The Constance Travis Charitable Trust; The Corcoran Foundation; The G D Charitable Trust; HSBC Holdings Plc; Icon Films; Interconnect IT; The Jeremy & Britta Lloyd Charitable Trust; Lund Trust: a charitable fund of Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing; The Thomson Reuters Foundation; The Rufford Foundation; Sarah Chenevix-Trench; The Savitri Waney Charitable Trust; The Schroder Foundation; Fondation Segré; The Shears Foundation; The Garfield Weston Foundation; HDH Wills 1965 Charitable Trust; The Whitley Animal Protection Trust; WWF-UK; The Friends and Scottish Friends of the Whitley Fund for Nature; and many individual and anonymous donors to whom we are very grateful.