In 2018 we ran our first campaign into the Amazon. The plan was to investigate falling numbers of the iconic pink dolphin, a fresh water species that is found through much of the river basin, but who’s numbers have been in steady decline. As is often the case, we went in looking at one problem, only to stumble into a much larger one. We gathered evidence of so many illegal and concerning activities that included the killing of pink dolphin, but also illegal logging, poison fishing and many more. But the activity that really shocked us was the rampant animal trafficking – Almost any Amazonian animal can be purchased as a pet – Monkeys, snakes, puma, jaguar – all are for sale. While investigating the illegal trade, Bethune followed the trail from Requena in Peru, all the way to Macapa in Brazil, where he was attacked by two men, one of them stabbing Bethune in the chest. It was a salutary lesson on how dangerous conservation has become. Below are just a small sample of the 60 odd videos we made through the campaign, one of them detailing Bethune’s stabbing . More can be found on our YouTube channel. If you support such work you might also like to make a donation.
The video above is an introduction to our Amazon campaign. We started out on a mission into the disappearing pink dolphin, only to discover that pretty much all the wildlife is disappearing. The Amazon is under siege, and a large contributor is the illegal pet trade.
Once the campaign started, it quickly became apparent that the markets are a hub for animal trafficking. Low-value animals are openly sold in markets like this, and high value animals such as monkey and jaguar are shipped down river.
We hired our own boat and started simply traveling up river, documenting everything we saw. In this video, we came ocross what we thought was a boat on fire, only to discover its crew were smoking a pink dolphin. Smoked dolphin meat is often sold illegally in markets.
The destruction of the Amazon often commences with illegal (or legal) logging. Loggers survive in the jungle by eating wildlife. Logging tracks they put in allow poachers easy access further into the jungle. In time, people start permanently living in the area. The slippery slope of destruction.
During the campaign, we quite literally stumbled into some poachers. In the video above, we were making our way up a small tributary when we heard some gun shots. On getting to the area, we found a poacher pulling a dead gaza bird out of the bushes.
This is the day our entire Amazon campaign changed. We were heading up a small tributary far away from any major or town, and spotted something suspicious on the side of the river. Nothing could prepare us for what we’d just stumbled upon.
Decades ago, nearly 100 pink dolphin were captured alive and shipped around the world to zoos and dolphin theme parks. Today, just 2 of these survive – One in Germany, and this one in Peru. It is time such places were closed down, however tourists keep them afloat.
Amazingly, we found endangered and protected fish openly for sale in markets, and directly in front of signs warning locals not to sell such fish. Here we have the endangered paiche, the most sought after fish in the Amazon.
Our Amazon boat was one crazy beast, and she didn’t always behave as we expected. On this day, we had a fast, narrow section of river to navigate, and we knew it would be a challenge. But we never expected to crash on the way down and complete the voyage going backwards.
Our 2 months on the Amazon river was at times challenging with constant mosquitoes and rain. The morning coffee however often made up for it. Well for the coffee drinkers at least. Making coffee in remote locations however can be quite a challenge.
We found these guys rafting illegal logs down towards the Amazon. The wood is “Lupuna”, which is being extensively logged now in pretty much all corners of the Amazon basin.
The Amazon is complicated. Like many parts of the world, if you break the problem down, the real issue is population growth. Communities in the jungle continue to grow, and new settlements continue t crop up pretty much all through the Amazon basin. But there is no easy fix to this.
The video above is a really good summary of our Amazon campaign. It should be remembered this was a reconnaissance mission to understand what the issues are, and to formulate a plan to go back there and make a substantial contribution. Just as we closed down two wildlife smuggling rings in Asia, we believe we can be successful closing down trafficking rings in the Amazon.