Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)

The Afobaka Dam, in the South American country of Suriname, was closed (that is, became operational) officially on February 1, 1964.  It began filling the Brokopondo Reservoir behind it, making the 41st largest reservoir in the world by surface area (approximately 580 square miles).  It covers about 1% of the land area of Suriname, which is South America’s smallest country.

Afobaka Dam, Suriname (photo by Mark Ahsmann)

Construction of the dam began in 1961.  The dam was built primarily to generate electricity to power the bauxite industry, the largest source of foreign trade for Suriname.  Bauxite ore is refined to make aluminum.  The dam is privately owned, by a subsidiary of Alcoa Aluminum.  About 75% of the electricity produced is used by the aluminum industry; the other 25% goes to general use in the nation’s capital and largest city, Paramaribo.

The filling of the dam is noteworthy for a wild animal rescue operation, Operation Gwamba, that occurred in the first few years after the dam was closed.  Organized and operated by the International Society for the Protection of Animals (now known as World Animal Protection), the project was led by John Walsh, a U.S. biologist with no previous experience in the tropics or in animal capture and relocation.  In all, Operation Gwamba rescued more than 10,000 animals, including more than 2000 sloths, 1000 armadillos, and nearly a thousand tortoises, tree porcupines and monkeys.  At least one individual of 43 different species was captured.

John Walsh, leader of Operation Gwamba, with rescued deer (photo courtesy of Rihana Jamaludin)

The rescue operation mainly captured animals trapped on small islands created as the water rose, isolating former hill-tops into ever-shrinking land areas.  The animals were then moved onto shoreline areas not subject to flooding.

Operation Gwamba was memorialized in the 1967 book, Time is Short and the Water Rises, co-authored by John Walsh and Robert Gannon.  Walsh wrote, “The most valuable thing from my point of view, of course, was what I learned about the jungle.  I found out that, as I had suspected, it is not something evil, dreary, and cruel….Furthermore, if you enter the jungle with plenty of food, go to a place where clean water is abundant, stay away from your fellow human beings, and don’t get lost or go out of your way to play with bushmasters, you’ll be relatively safe.”

References:

United Caribbean.  Suriname—Afobaka Dam.  Availabe at:  http://www.unitedcaribbean.com/afobakadam.html.  Accessed January 31, 2017.

Walsh, John and Robert Gannon.  1967.  Time is Short and the Water Rises.  Tower Publications, New York.  262 pages.

This Month in Conservation

January 1
NEPA Enacted (1970)
January 2
Bob Marshall Born (1901)
January 3
Canaveral National Seashore Created (1975)
January 4
The Real James Bond Born (1900)
January 5
National Bird Day
January 6
Wild Kingdom First Airs (1963)
January 7
Gerald Durrell Born (1925)
January 8
Alfred Russel Wallace Born (1823)
January 9
Muir Woods National Monument Created (1908)
January 10
National Houseplant Appreciation Day
January 11
Aldo Leopold Born (1887)
January 12
National Trust of England Established (1895)
January 13
MaVynee Betsch, the Beach Lady, Born (1935)
January 14
Martin Holdgate Born (1931)
January 15
British Museum Opened (1795)
January 16
Dian Fossey Born (1932)
January 17
Benjamin Franklin, America’s First Environmentalist, Born (1706)
January 18
White Sands National Monument Created (1933)
January 19
Yul Choi, Korean Environmentalist, Born (1949)
January 19
Acadia National Park Established (1929)
January 20
Penguin Appreciation Day
January 21
The Wilderness Society Founded (1935)
January 22
Iraq Sabotages Kuwaiti Oil Fields (1991)
January 23
Sweden Bans CFCs in Aerosols (1978)
January 24
Baden-Powell Publishes “Scouting for Boys” (1908)
January 25
Badlands National Park Established (1939)
January 26
Benjamin Franklin Disses the Bald Eagle (1784)
January 27
National Geographic Society Incorporated (1888)
January 28
Bermuda Petrel, Thought Extinct for 300 Years, Re-discovered (1951)
January 29
Edward Abbey, author of “Desert Solitaire,” Born (1927)
January 30
England Claims Antarctica (1820)
January 31
Stewart Udall, Secretary of Interior, Born (1920)
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