Leonardo DiCaprio has praised the work of the Chester Zoo and its conservation partners for bringing a rare species of fish “back from the dead.”
Zoo conservationists worked alongside a team of global experts from the UK, North America and Latin America to release 1,200 golden skiffia fish into the Teuchitlan River in Mexico on Wednesday for the first time in 30 years.
Cheshire Zoo thanked the Hollywood actor after he took to social media to share the news of the successful reintroduction with his 55.6 million Instagram followers.
The golden skiffia had been pushed to extinction in the wild as a result of human disturbance caused by dam construction, water extraction, pollution, and the introduction of invasive species.
DiCaprio’s post, which racked up more than 282,000 likes, featured a photograph of a golden skiffia surrounded by brightly colored flowers and colorful skulls, in reference to the Day of the Dead, which coincided with the release of the fish.
The Day of the Dead is a traditional Mexican celebration, when people’s deceased ancestors are believed to return to the land of the living for a night to converse and spend time with their families.
Omar Domínguez-Domínguez, a professor and researcher at Mexico’s University of Michoacán, led the reintroduction of the golden skiffia, saying that returning the fish on the special day was “an amazing thing.”
Mr Dominguez-Domínguez said: “Releasing the golden skiffia at this time is a metaphor for how the species has risen from the dead to return home, not for one night, but forever.
“Releasing this species back into the wild is a beacon of hope for this wonderful family of fish, the goodeids, and for freshwater fish conservation in general.
“Knowing that universities, zoos and aquarists can come together to fix some of what has been destroyed and return to nature some of what has been lost is amazing.”
In preparation for the species’ return to the wild, the fish were first placed in ponds to adapt to different conditions and then brought to floating pods, known as mesocosms, in the river where they lived for at least a month to further adapt. to the nature. conditions before launch.
The fish released into the wild were tagged and will be monitored over the next five years to assess whether the population is increasing and whether the fish are successfully reproducing and growing in the river.
Paul Bamford, Regional Program Manager for Latin America at Chester Zoo, said: “This project is a great example of how zoos can contribute to conservation in the field through conservation and research, using the skills and the expertise that has been developed in zoos to help strengthen existing and new wild populations.
“By supporting the conservation of freshwater in Mexico and the ecosystems where fish live, we not only protect the biodiversity and well-being of freshwater environments, but also the people and communities that live next to them.”
The project is part of Fish Ark Mexico, a conservation project in central Mexico that focuses on 41 highly threatened freshwater fish species.
In 2014, scientists from Mexico’s University of Michoacán and fish farmers from the Goodeid Working Group helped restore degraded habitat and remove non-native species from the Teuchitlán ecosystem.
The release of the golden skiffia comes just a few years after the successful reintroduction of the tequila splitfin, which faced very similar threats to the golden skiffia and was also prevented from extinction as a result of conservation action by experts from Chester Zoo.