Contention in the Amazon: Criminality and Inequality Among Humans and the Amazon River Dolphin in Brazil

Authors: Cadi Fung*, Michigan State University
Topics: Animal Geographies, Human-Environment Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: Animal geographies, Amazon, Brazil, wildlife crime, tourism, fishers
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Studio 10, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Environmental crime in the Brazilian Amazon is regularly associated with illegal logging, mining, and hydroelectric projects. Wildlife crime is not as prevalent in the discourse, nor is it addressed as efficiently as other environmental crimes. Recently, however, one species in particular has gained international conservation attention --- the Amazon river dolphin, locally known as the “boto.”

Steeped in local mythology, the boto is a contentious animal for reasons including cultural taboo and beyond. Perceived by local fishers as a nuisance animal that disrupts fishing activities and competes for the same resources, the boto is sometimes slaughtered by disgruntled individuals. Moreover, the practice of killing botos for use as bait for a fish called piracatinga has been a growing concern among conservationists and researchers in the Amazon. At the same time, a tourism industry centered on interacting with botos has gained both popularity and notoriety, but is currently unregulated.

Wildlife crime in the region is a complicated multi-scalar and multi-stakeholder issue. The direct killing of botos is an egregious crime that paints fishers as criminals, but when asked about the situation, individuals sometimes express frustration at a lack of viable economic alternatives. Tourism activities, while presented as an eco-friendly activity, have led to instances of tourists feeding animals beer and other human products.

Wildlife crime in the area is being perpetuated through nontraditional means that make enforcement of laws even more difficult. However, international attention gained by crimes against the boto has served as a catalyst for action on boto conservation.

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