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

October 1
Yosemite National Park Created (1890)
October 2
San Diego Zoo Founded (1916)
October 3
James Herriot, English Veterinarian, Born (1916)
October 4
Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, Patron Saint of Ecology
October 5
Catherine Cooper Hopley, British Herpetologist, Born (1817)
October 6
Mad Hatter’s Day
October 7
Henry A. Wallace, Secretary of Agriculture, Born (1888)
October 8
World Octopus Day
October 9
Vajont Dam Disaster (1963)
October 10
Dnieper Dam Began Operation (1932)
October 11
Big Cypress and Big Thicket National Preserves Created (1974)
October 12
William Laurance, Tropical Conservationist, Born (1957)
October 13
International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction
October 14
Timpanogos Cave National Monument Created (1922)
October 15
Isabella Bird, Pioneering Eco-traveler, Born (1831)
October 16
World Food Day
October 17
Oliver Rackham born (1939)
October 18
Clean Water Act established (1972)
October 19
Research Vessel Albatross Launched (1882)
October 20
OPEC Oil Embargo (1973)
October 21
“Ding” Darling born (1876)
October 22
Wombat Day
October 23
Cumberland Island National Seashore established (1972)
October 24
Antoni von Leeuwenhoek born (1632)
October 25
Secretary of the Interior Convicted in Teapot Dome Scandal (1929)
October 26
Erie Canal Opens (1825)
October 27
Golden Gate and Gateway National Recreation Areas Created (1972)
October 28
Henry Mosby, Wild Turkey Biologist, Born (1913)
October 28
First Ticker-tape Parade Held (1886)
October 29
Stanley Park, Vancouver, Dedicated (1889)
October 30
UNESCO Designates 9 Natural World Heritage Sites (1981)
October 31
Lincoln Highway Dedicated (1913)
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