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 hump-backed 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 abstraction), which combine 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.”…………..
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