Leonardo DiCaprio praises Chester Zoo as ‘extinct’ fish returns to the wild

Leonardo DiCaprio has praised Chester Zoo after its conservationists were involved in returning a near-extinct fish back to the wild.

The Hollywood A-lister posted on Instagram to celebrate the release of 1,200 rare golden skiffia into the Teuchitlán River in central-western Mexico, where the fish had not been seen since the 1990s.

It was the culmination of a project involving conservationists from the UK, including Chester Zoo, along with experts from North and Latin America. The reintroduction of the fish coincided with Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations.

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Posting on Instagram, Leo said: “This year’s Day of the Dead celebrations included a unique ‘resurrection’ in Jalisco, Mexico, where conservationists released more than 1,000 Golden Skiffia into the fish’s native range in the Teuchitlán River.

“The freshwater fish had not been documented in the wild since the late 1990s. The events, in the midst of Mexico’s #DayoftheDead celebrations, included formal speeches, traditional dances and the official release of the fish.

“Bringing the species back from the ‘dead’ is the result of collaborative conservation work between Michoacan University of Mexico, @chesterzoo, the Goodeid Working Group and @Shoal_Org (a program of @Rewild and @synchearth).”

The area was the golden skiffia’s only known home but human disturbance caused by dam construction, water extraction, pollution and the introduction of invasive species pushed it to the bring of extinction.

In 2014, scientists from the Michoacan University of Mexico and passionate fish keepers from the Goodeid Working Group helped restore the degraded habitat and remove non-native species from the Teuchitlán ecosystem

Conservationists hope the fish being released will result in a ‘healthy, self-sustaining population’ that can fulfil its important natural role in the ecosystem of eating algae and mosquito larvae, which helps keep populations of those species in check.

Paul Bamford, Regional Programme Manager for Latin America at Chester Zoo, added: “This project is a great example of how zoos can contribute to conservation in the field through conservation breeding and research, utilising the skills and experience that have been developed in zoos to help strengthen existing and new wild populations.

Golden skiffia fish have been reintroduced to their native habitat in Mexico after almost going extinct
Golden skiffia fish have been reintroduced to their native habitat in Mexico after almost going extinct
(Image: Chester Zoo)

“By supporting freshwater conservation in Mexico and the ecosystems where the fish live, we’re not only protecting biodiversity and the wellbeing of freshwater environments, but also the people and communities that live alongside them.”

Omar Domínguez-Domínguez, a professor and researcher from the Michoacan University of Mexico, who is leading the golden skiffia reintroduction, said: “The Day of the Dead is a traditional Mexican celebration, when it is believed that people’s deceased ancestors return to the land of the living for one night, to talk and spend time with their families. Releasing the golden skiffia at this time is a metaphor for how the species has come back from the dead to return to its home, not for one night, but forever.

“Releasing this species back into the wild is a light of hope for this wonderful family of fishes – the goodeids – and for the conservation of freshwater fish more generally. 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 an amazing thing.”

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