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Thread: critically endangered fish

  1. #1
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    Default critically endangered fish

    Over a period of four years, myself and a couple of friends have been looking for certain species of fish in the Western Ghats.
    One we have found is Neolissichilus wynaadensis, a type of copper mahseer, or Katli. It is listed as Red Book critically endangered and according to Jayaram, is only to be found in one river in Kerala.
    We have found two separate, thriving populations in rivers in Karnataka. Despite lots of effort, we cannot find anyone who finds this particularly interesting. Where do we go from here?

    Here's the fish:

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    Welcome to Indiawilds Steve. It is glad to note your pronounced interest on fishes.

    An authority on fresh water fishes of Western Ghats is Dr. Ranjit Daniels - one of the leading Wildlife scientists in India. May be you can refer to his book "Fresh water fishes of India" which as far as I remember cover many Mahseer species (Tor sp.). As Mahseer is mostly confined to mountain streams where there are more pebbles, this species should be most likely available in S.W.Ghats where there are plenty of streams. In the meantime, will check with him on this.

    Are you doing any specific research on this species ? Please let us know.

    N.Lakshminarayanan

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    Hi NL and thanks for your reply.
    I have been doing research of this kind for several years. It started with concern for the possible hybridisation of the Tor species amongst the samples that are stocked into the Kaveri by the Fisheries Dept.
    Myself and my collegue, Dr Mark Everard, are more interested in the smaller species of fish, hence looking at Neolissichilus. Although we were lead to these stocks by others who, mistakenly, believed they were Tor putitora from the Himalaya.
    I use Dr Daniels' book as one guide to identification. Also, I have books by Jayaram and Jingran, including the Checklist of Freshwater Fish. I also have contact with Dr Basavaraja at Mangalore University, he is an expert on breeding of freshwater fish and a Dr Rao, who is a fellow Fishbase collaborator.

    It seems to both myself and Dr Everard, that these fish are most certainly the species mentioned, which is declared critically endangered due to only surviving in a single habitat.
    What I need to do is:
    1. find that single habitat to compare the species
    2. interest someone locally in the need to protect the 'new' populations
    3. possibly downgrade the Red Book status

    I will be in Karnataka next April and would love to be able to move some of these things forward. I know that Coorg Wildlife Society will assist with the protection of the fish, but this would be greatly enhanced if an expert were to take this on board.

    I have a suspicion that some of these fish, or a very similar species exists in the main Kaveri river as well. This may be possible to determine on my next trip.
    Giving the matter some considerable thought, I believe that the 'known' population as listed in the Red Book, must exist in a West-flowing river, while all the populations that I have found are in East-flowing catchment. While this raises the possibility of mis-identification, I am pretty sure that the species we have studied is Neolissichilus wynaadensis or a very close relative.

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    Good to note your studies Steeve.

    Much of the gallery forests of Cauvery river is lost and in Coorg district some secluded places still remain where the river is relatively undisturbed. Near Bhagamandala I found the river very condusive for wildlife. However, temple tourism is now exceeding the carrying capacity.

    There are some west flowing rivers in Nilgiris. Bhavani, Moyar etc. Perhaps there are some species of Mahseer endemic to these rivers.

    Will be extremely glad to note that the red-listed fish species is discovered in Cauvery or its tributaries so that more support can be gained for protection.

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    After our previous correspondance, I checked back over my emails to/from Dr Basavaraja and it seems he is suggesting a west-flowing river in Wynaad as the home of N. wynaadensis. I conclude that the Kabbini is most likely, but let's see...
    There are certainly populations of Tor something or other in the Moyar river. I know people who have fished for them and I have seen them while travelling through Mudumalai. There are also Tor khudree in Bhavani Reservoir, so perhaps they are also in the river?

    As for protection in Coorg, on one of the stretches where we found this fish, what was primary jungle in 2007, when we first found the fish, is now being turned into coffee estate!
    While I don't begrudge anyone making a living, there comes a time when pristine habitat is wiped out and everyone suffers. The river is a small tributary of the Kaveri, passing through Harangi dam first, and is partly responsible for keeping flow rates constant.
    The deforestation can only lower the average flows and add to the risk of higher peak run-off and loss of soil.
    And then what happens to a possibly unique family of fish? Let alone the other inhabitants of this beautiful area.

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    Who cares for fish?

    Unfortunately, people don't realise the importance of fish and other aquatic species in the overall scheme of things. I feel the onus is on us to educate people about the importance as well as the beauty of species other than the megafauna like tiger, elephant, leopard, lion, rhino and gaur.

    A lot of our pristine forests have been converted into tea and coffee estates. These forests have taken thousands of years to evolve and in one stroke we wipe them clean and convert into tea or coffee estates. It is sad to hear that the process is still on.

    Would love to hear more about this species.

    Cheers,
    Sabyasachi

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    ;-)
    Thanks for that post. You hit the nail right on the head.

    We decided that the big Mahseer species would have to be the tiger of the aquatic world to make people sit up and take notice.
    In actual fact, top end predators like tigers and mahseer do little to sustain the habitat they need. They are very dependant on the smaller things that many people do not give any notice to.
    That was one reason we wanted to look at smaller fish species, although Neolissichilus is not a small fish. This particular fish was chosen due to mis-identification in the first instance and realisation of its extremely vulnerable status, secondly.
    Probably the most important fish in Indian rivers is the Garra. It browses on rocks and can be seen easily in low, clear rivers. It recycles nutrients that are consumed by algae and helps to both keep rivers clean and pass food up the chain.

    I cannot remember the name of the author, shame, (and I've lent the book to a friend who is using it for his PHD studies) but there is a brilliant essay called the tiger and the honeybee. I read it in the book Environmental Issues in India.
    It explains how without bees, everything in the forest is doomed. Crucial reading for those who wish to know how to protect and conserve.

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