A slow death along the Pil­co­mayo River

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

GEN­ERAL DIAZ, BOQUERON, Paraguay: In Paraguay, along­side the Pil­co­mayo River, black vul­tures flew over a shrink­ing pond where a group of crocodil­ian rep­tiles known as yacare caimans sought refuge. Wa­ter from the river, which di­vides Paraguay and Ar­gentina in the area of the Gran Chaco, was scarce.This is not an un­com­mon sight in the re­gion of Gen­eral Diaz, about 700 km north­west of the coun­try’s cap­i­tal Asun­cion, where the Pil­co­mayo’s wa­ters form lakes and streams that give life to capy­baras, birds and caimans.

“The river’s sit­u­a­tion is crit­i­cal. No wa­ter is fore­cast to en­ter the basin un­til De­cem­ber, as hap­pens ev­ery year,” said Al­cides Gon­za­lez, a res­i­dent of the area. The Pil­co­mayo River, which de­scends from the An­des moun­tains in Bo­livia, is at its low­est level of the past 19 years in Paraguay, ac­cord­ing to the Min­istry of Pub­lic Works and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions. “The river is 60 per­cent sed­i­ment and 40 per­cent wa­ter,” said Gon­za­lez, who owns a cat­tle ranch that is also home to deer, capy­baras and more than 8,000 caimans that con­sis­tently mi­grate in search of wa­ter. “An­i­mals are mi­grat­ing nat­u­rally, but those that are weak no longer move,” Gon­za­lez said.

In the Agropil lagoon, north of Gon­za­lez’s ranch, the once per­ma­nent layer of wa­ter has turned to mud, where the yacare caimans are at­tracted to hu­mid­ity and feed on vul­tures and other birds that flock around dead an­i­mals. Live­stock is also be­gin­ning to suf­fer from the scarcity of wa­ter. Roughly one hun­dred cows have died in the lagoon area, where most farm­ers have small ranches and lack the re­sources to dig wells and pump fresh wa­ter.

Some cat­tle cool them­selves in ponds of salt wa­ter, but they are un­able to drink it. “That’s the prob­lem - those that have re­mained here de­pen­dent on this river will surely die as they be­come thin and weak,” he added. The Agropil lagoon, which is fed by wa­ter from the Pil­co­mayo River, is sur­rounded by trees and dry cracked ground.

Res­i­dents around Gen­eral Diaz say it hasn’t rained there since last May, and that the river was al­ready greatly re­duced in 2015 and un­able to fill la­goons and ponds as it used to. There­fore they must re­sort to dig­ging wells to find wa­ter. Be­cause of the lack of wa­ter, the gov­ern­ments of Paraguay and Ar­gentina have built canals to con­trol ir­reg­u­lar flow­ing.

Us­ing so­cial me­dia, a group of vol­un­teers or­ga­nized a res­cue op­er­a­tion to save the caimans in re­sponse to what they con­sid­ered the gov­ern­ment’s slow re­ac­tion to the drought. They cap­tured the an­i­mals and trans­ported them in pri­vate ve­hi­cles from dry river beds to ar­ti­fi­cial lakes on lo­cal ranches. But ef­forts by the vol­un­teers have not al­ways panned out. One group took about 17 caimans to a pond that they did not re­al­ize was salt wa­ter, and most of the an­i­mals died. —Reuters

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