A biologist weighs and measures a Tequila fish (zoogoneticus tequila) during a survey of the species which has been successfully reintroduced to its natural habitat
Image: Ulises Ruiz / AFP
RResidents of a small town in western Mexico celebrate the reintroduction into the wild of tequila fish, an endemic species saved from the brink of extinction.
The fish, whose scientific name is Zoogoneticus Tequila, was rescued in the 1990s by American and British conservationists who kept it in aquariums and helped return it to its original habitat in the Teuchitlan River.
The children of Teuchitlan, home to around 10,000 people, have been at the forefront of efforts to educate visitors not only about the importance of keeping their habitat clean, but also about the tequila fish.
“It’s the children who approach people by the river and tell them that in this river lives a small fish unique in the world… and that they participated in its reintroduction,” said Consuelo Rivera, a septuagenarian. – old retired teacher.
The tequila fish was said to have disappeared in 1998, possibly due to habitat fragmentation, pollution and competition from non-native species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The species only survived in captivity for several years until conservationists, led by the University of Michoacan, began the process in 2014 to reintroduce it into the wild.
Since then, the fish has gone from strength to strength, helped by the last big fish release in 2018, said project manager Omar Dominguez.
Little rooster resuscitated
The tequila fish grows to about seven centimeters (2.7 inches) and the male has a bright red-orange tail.
It shares the name of the world-famous Mexican liquor originating from the city of Tequila, which, like Teuchitlan, is located in the state of Jalisco.
The species has unique characteristics such as giving birth to well-developed fetuses, which it nurtures through a sort of umbilical cord similar to that of humans, Dominguez said.
“It is an important part of the ecosystem. It is a carnivorous species and it feeds, for example, on mosquito larvae, which keeps ecosystems healthy for humans,” he added.
It is now estimated that there are between 1,500 and 2,000 tequila fish in the wild, and the species is listed as endangered by the IUCN.
The civil society group Guardians of the River organizes educational campaigns and workshops for children and adults to introduce them to the fauna and flora of the region.
Tourism also plays an important role in the initiative.
Local visitors bathe in thermal pools around the river which are said to have therapeutic properties and swim with the fish, also known as “gallito” (little rooster) due to its colorful tail.
“There are a lot of little fish. They swim with people and sometimes the little fish also start biting people, petting them,” said Maria Aurea Martinez, a spa worker.
Jaime Navel, a local priest, sees the species as “the little fish that was resuscitated, that came back to life”.
“There is fear and joy in the community,” he said.
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