Research with state government departments, academic colleagues, a multi-national utility provider, fishery professionals, educators, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and local communities in India prevented an iconic giant freshwater fish from becoming extinct.
The hump-backed, orange-finned mahseer have been threatened by dam building since the early 1900s, leading to decreasing fish numbers. More recently, this has been compounded by unsustainable harvesting.
Tata Power instigated the ‘Mahseer Conservation Programme’ in 1975, involving releasing hatchery-reared mahseer to bolster their populations and mitigate the impacts of the dams. While the reared mahseer, an alien, smaller species, was rapidly invading the Cauvery River, the orange-finned mahseer, which was yet to be described, was heading for extinction.
The IUCN Red List is the most authoritative, comprehensive inventory of the status of biological diversity, but, without a valid scientific name, species cannot be assessed and included.
Whilst fishing in the Western Ghats of southern India Dr Pinder realised that the number and types of mahseer fish being captured did not reflect the historical angling records.
Analysing angler log books for the years 1998-2012, he documented an ageing population of high extinction risk, which had effectively been replaced by the blue-finned mahseer, present only due to the Mahseer Conservation Programme.
Pinder and ecologist Professor Robert Britton, along with their Indian collaborators, formally identified the orange-finned mahseer in 2018 as Tor remadevii and confirmed it as endemic to the Cauvery Basin.
The work enabled the orange-finned mahseer to be formally recognised and finally be assessed as ‘Critically Endangered’ which generated a high level of media attention. Specific guidance in India’s Wildlife Action Plan instigated a long-term programme of the removal of the blue-finned mahseer in the Cauvery.
Tata modified its programme and focused efforts on saving the orange-finned mahseer from extinction, launching a conservation programme in 2018 via an awareness drive with local schoolchildren.
Working with Tata, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, and the World Wide Fund for Nature India (WWF), this Bournemouth University helped develop a robust monitoring programme that measures population responses and biological traits.
Institution: Bournemouth University
Researchers: Dr Adrian Pinder, Professor Robert Britton