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CARP CHAT
Can a scientific name save one of Earth’s most iconic
freshwater fish from extinction?
The hump-backed mahseer, native to
South India and one of the world’s
most iconic freshwater fish, has been
given a scientific name in a race to
save the species from extinction.
145 years after being first popularised by the publication of HS
Thomas’s classic A Rod in India in
1873, the iconic hump-backed mahseer has been allocated a scientific
name - Tor remadevii - as a key step
in trying to save this highly threatened species from extinction.
Being capable of exceeding lengths
of 1.5 metres and body weights of 55
kg, this freshwater giant qualifies as
megafauna, yet has until recently
avoided the attention of ichthyologists and remained a taxonomic
enigma to the scientific world.
This giant member of the carp family has been known to anglers around
the globe as ‘one of the largest, hardest fighting and most iconic freshwater game fish in the world’, but due to
a restricted natural distribution and a
range of escalating environmental
pressures, the survival of the species
is currently uncertain.
A team of researchers, led by
Bournemouth University’s Adrian Pinder, has been working with the
species for a number of years.
Through extensive research, the fish
was discovered to be endemic to
South India’s River Cauvery system
and its various tributaries.
The former catch-and-release
based recreational fishery of the Cauvery has been widely cited as positively contributing towards mahseer
conservation. Using historic catch
records collected by anglers, it
became apparent that, since 2004, the
species had experienced a dramatic
crash in population numbers, leaving
the humpback on the edge of extinction.
Lacking a formal scientific name
has precluded the iconic humpbacked mahseer from being afforded
formal recognition on the IUCN Red
List of Threatened Species and, therefore, left the few remaining fish unprotected against factors such as dynamite fishing and river engineering
projects (e.g. dam construction and
a bs tra c ti o n), w hi c h c o mbi ne to
threaten vital habitats that support
the existence of this species.
Pinder, also Director of Research at
the Mahseer Trust, a UK Registered
Charity set up to conserve mahseer
species and their environment, says
“It was just unbelievable that such an
enormous animal, recognised by
anglers around the world, could be
about to go extinct in advance of
being afforded a scientific name.
“We knew something needed to be
done to support the survival of this
species. The alarming and rapid loss
of this iconic species from the majority of the Cauvery system has deeper
conservation implications. Indeed, as
an ‘indicator species’ and apex predator, the loss of the humpback will
have knock-on ramifications for the
wider biodiversity of the river.”
A fact finding project was conducted, involving scientists from the
three Indian States through which the
River Cauvery flows; Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, to find the fish
and collect the data required (i.e.
body measurements and DNA) to
clarify this taxonomic puzzle. Pinder
continued, “Our big problem was that
by the time we realised that this fish
was close to extinction we then had
the additional challenge of finding
specimens.”
Working with the fishermen of a
local tribal community, the team were
eventually successful in finding a
small population of humpbacks in the
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