During 7–10 July 2016 a workshop was held to establish an action plan for the conservation of the threatened freshwater mammals of Venezuela. The workshop was attended by more than 30 specialists, including representatives of the Ministry of Popular Power for Eco-socialism and Water, Fundación Omacha and WWF-Colombia.
On the first day of the workshop knowledge about the river dolphins (Inia geoffrensis and Sotalia guianensis), giant otters (Pteronura brasiliensis and Lontra longicaudis) and manatee Trichechus manatus in Venezuela was evaluated. This facilitated identification of the main threats and gaps in information, and priority areas for conservation of the species. The main threats identified were habitat loss as a result of damming of rivers for agriculture, use of irrigation systems for residential development, and deforestation and sediment removal; pollution from oil and gas extraction activities in Maracaibo Lake, and from the mining industry along the lower Orinoco River; illegal hunting for meat (manatees and dolphins) and for use as bait (dolphins) and pets (otters); and negative interaction with fisheries.
During the second day separate working groups for river dolphins, otters and manatees discussed (1) research and monitoring, (2) sustainable management, (3) information and its dissemination, (4) education, participation and training, and (5) management and institutions. On the third day the results were shared in a plenary session, and priorities common to each of the groups were identified. Finally, a financial strategy was discussed, identifying potential sponsor institutions and stakeholders.
The research needs identified were studies of the distribution, population size, genetics, biology and ecology of these mammals and the quantification of each of the identified threats. The outcome of the workshop will be the first action plan dedicated to the conservation of these species, by the Ministry of Popular Power for Eco-socialism and Water, framed within the national strategy for the conservation of biodiversity of Venezuela. This workshop methodology could be used for the formulation of conservation strategies at the national level for other groups of threatened species.