Translocation of the point-endemic and Critically Endangered (CR) freshwater fish species Pethia bandula (Bandula barb)

08 July 2014 | News story

The Bandula barb is a point-endemic, and nationally and globally Critically Endangered (CR), freshwater fish species found at a site near Galapitamada, Warakapola, in the Kegalle District of the Sabaragamuwa Province of Sri Lanka.

 The Bandula barb population at this site was estimated to consist of approximately a thousand individuals — 1, 073 individuals to be exact — following a population count in December, 2013. Given that this species occurs naturally only at one location, which lies outside the protected area network, it is particularly vulnerable to extinction, as a single harmful event (e.g. disease, toxin or natural disaster) may, potentially, destroy the entire population.  Therefore, it is important that an ‘insurance population’ is established at another location, to ensure that this species will not go extinct in the event that its natural population is impacted by such an event.  

The IUCN team spent several months searching for a suitable site to which the species could be translocated. During the search, the team sought to find a favourable site within the same river basin that would have similar environmental conditions to those of the natural habitat of the species.  It was also essential that the team found a stream that is free from other fish that can out-compete this species, or cross-breed with it, resulting in hybrid forms. Further it was important that the new site would have minimal anthropogenic threats and environmental pressures, such as water pollution.

A suitable site at the border of a protected area under the jurisdiction of the Forest Department was identified at the beginning of 2014, and the IUCN team spent the first few months of the year working with the local Forest Department office to ensure that conditions were right for the intended translocation of the Bandula barb. The IUCN team also consulted, and coordinated with, the Department of Wildlife Conservation, in order to plan and carry out the translocation.

In addition to consultations with relevant government agencies, the preparatory process for the translocation also involved discussions with local communities, conducting awareness and school programmes, preparation of the site together with the local community, distribution of plants for home gardens to enhance stream-side vegetation, and planting of Legenandra spp. (Ketala) to create hiding places and breeding habitats for the species, at the identified site.

With necessary permission from the Department of Wildlife Conservation, the IUCN team collected several individuals of the species from Galpitamada and translocated them to the prepared destination site. The translocation was carried out to coincide with the International Day for Biological Diversity, with the participation of representatives of the Forest Department and the Department of Wildlife Conservation, as well as local communities from both the source and destination sites. At a gathering held on the day of the translocation, the Secretary of the Hapugoda, Rabbidigala and Alpitiya Community-based Organization in Galapitamada commented, “…this is an important day in the conservation of this species…we hope the Bandula barb — a valuable natural resource — will thrive in its new home”.

Both the source and translocated populations will be monitored through the Bandula barb conservation project.

The Bandula barb conservation project is implemented with funding from the Toyota Environmental Activities Grant Program of the Toyota Motor Corporation.