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And the species just keep on coming (but for how much longer)?


I find it amazing to think that even in this day and age new species are still being discovered. In a world where technology, economy, politics and business increasingly take centre stage, somewhere in the most remote reaches of our incredible natural world there are yet more species waiting to be discovered.

Earlier this year WWF reported on the 441 species that were discovered in the Amazon between 2010 and 2013. Often these new discoveries come in small packages. This was not the case last week when news articles were reporting the discovery of a new river dolphin, the Araguaian boto, discovered in a particular region of the Amazon in Brazil.

Amazon River DolphinsAmazon River Dolphins (Inia geoffrensis) Underwater,Rio Negro, Amazonia – photo: Kevin Schafer.

The Amazon is vast with some extremely remote areas that are still generally unexplored, and that are refuge to some tribes as yet uncontacted. It is also home to about 20 percent of the world’s known plant species, 20 percent of known bird species and 10 percent of known mammal species. So, it might not be so surprising that new species are discovered there.

The discovery was made by a group of researchers led by Dr. Tomas Hrbek, from the Federal University of Amazonas who have published their findings in Plos One. To find a big mammal like this river dolphin must have been quite a thrill for the researchers. Not least because river dolphins are extremely rare and three out of the four known species on the IUCN Red List are classified as Critically Endangered.

The Araguaian boto, named after the river basin where it has been previously regularly spotted, will likely fall into the endangered category as well. Were it not for the availability of sophisticated DNA technology which allows great precision when clarifying species lineage, the distinction of this new species may not have been realised.

I can’t help wondering about the potential that the world’s technology and advances in development opens up to us. It enables endless possibilities in science and our understanding of the world; one tiny example is the description of this new species. Technology also presents a means to share information globally via the internet with messages reaching the other side of the world in a matter of minutes. But conversely development and technology also add to the ever increasing pressures on our diminishing natural world, a world that provides us with as yet immeasurable services of its own; a natural wealth of water, climate control and energy

These same services are increasingly harnessed for renewable energy and extensive hydropower dam construction is planned across the Amazon biome – not only in Brazil. Development is trying to keep up with the growing population, but at what cost? The rivers are home to vulnerable species, as this discovery demonstrates. Given our limited knowledge of these species, even with all the technology available to us, how can we be sure of how these planned dams will impact on not only new dolphin species like the Araguaian boto, but also the innumerable other species which take refuge in the Amazon?

Love dolphins and want to help protect them? Why not adopt one today

 What do you think about the new dolphin species, or endangered animals? Leave us a comment on Karina’s blog.

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