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Orocué is a small municipality, of about 8,000 inhabitants, located in the southeast of Colombia, in a vast region known as the Orinoquia. It rarely appears in the national press, much less in the international press. But in the last week, its authorities have had to answer an unusual number of calls to confirm the complaints of many of its inhabitants: illegal fishermen would be hunting pink dolphins to extract their oil and then sell it.
The alarm went off on February 18, when the municipal police reported that they had received a citizen complaint, according to a document published by the Semana Magazine and whose authenticity was confirmed by CNN en Español.
According to the complaint, "pink dolphins, an endangered species, came to the nets to eat fish, becoming trapped and it is there that some fishermen take the opportunity to sacrifice them and sell their oil."
This led the National Police and the Marine Corps to carry out a joint operation, according to the authorities' document, in which they found and seized five nylon fishing nets, sizes ranging between 30 and 50 meters long by 1 and 2 meters wide, in addition to elements that valued add up to almost 2 million Colombian pesos (about 700 dollars).
Nylon fishing nets are prohibited by Colombian law as they are made with a synthetic material that may include lead, which is why they are harmful to wildlife and the environment.
Pink dolphins - a protected species in Colombia - are the largest freshwater cetaceans in the world. They are vital to regulate the marine ecosystem.
The police report also highlights that "on the bank of the Meta river, a lifeless body of the pink dolphin species was found and found, which presented several blunt weapon wounds." The Police, however, did not find the fishermen who slaughtered the dolphin to extract its oil.
In the police report, it is said that a dolphin died - as the pink dolphin is also known - but according to the captain of the National Navy, Andrés Ladino, commander of the Orocué river station, two animals died. "One was carried away by the current and the other was exposed on the beach," Ladino told CNN en Español, in a telephone conversation.
The captain assures that several inhabitants of the town have told him that there are people who offer them bottles of oil, apparently extracted from pink dolphins. "People are very superstitious and rumors are that it serves to cure health problems and to attract a loved one, among other things," Ladino explained to CNN en Español.
The people of Orocué say that for each bottle they charge 50,000 Colombian pesos (about 18 dollars).
"We are investigating and our priority now is to sensitize the inhabitants and the fishermen, so that they do not install the nets that are prohibited (the plastic ones) and do not harm the pink dolphins", says Ladino. "We need them to become our allies and inform us every time they see something illegal happening in fishing activities in the region."
The Orinoquia Regional Autonomous Corporation (Corporinoquia), which is the entity in charge of managing everything related to the environment in that region, confirmed that it had already filed a complaint with the Prosecutor's Office for the events, although "against undetermined subjects."
Complaint before @FiscaliaCol against undetermined to investigate who is behind the trafficking of by-products Pink Dolphins or Toninas pic.twitter.com/1i10a5NlgJ
- CORPORINOQUIA (@Corporinoquia) February 22, 2017
According to Corporinoquia, the illegal use of natural resources is a criminal offense and has an aggravating factor when it comes to an endangered animal. For this reason, illegal fishermen could face sentences of up to 8 years in prison.
The Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development of Colombia, Luis Gilberto Murillo, called for people not to be fooled when they are offered oils with properties of all kinds, which in reality hide ecocides.
"We ask the community and the fishermen not to get carried away by this network of intermediaries and illegal networks that lead them to commit ecocides of a species such as dolphins, using practices and tools for their capture that are totally undesirable" Murillo explained in a statement sent to the press.
The pink dolphin is a protected species. From the environmental sector we will take measures against illegal fishing. https://t.co/7nL3KhSy3Jpic.twitter.com/z2v1gP9i3v
- Luis G. Murillo (@LuisGMurillo) February 23, 2017
"We are going to take all the administrative measures so that the culprits can be punished and we are also going to ask the Prosecutor's Office and we are going to take this issue to our Environmental Control Table," the minister said in the same communication.
Corporinoquia categorically rejects the attack on Toninas in the municipality of Orocué, Casanare https://t.co/EOorLPHGwipic.twitter.com/IqF1N0Oa3P
- CORPORINOQUIA (@Corporinoquia) February 23, 2017
Pink dolphins - a protected species in Colombia - are the largest freshwater cetaceans in the world and, according to the indigenous people of the Amazon, they rule the world under water. They can weigh up to 180 kilos, live for about 40 years and usually have only one baby per gestation period. Despite the name, its color is almost always gray. They are said to be very intelligent and communicate with each other through high pitched sounds.
In Colombia, pink dolphins are the main attraction for tourists who go to the Amazon.