The Bandula barb (Pethia bandula) is a point endemic species. This means that it is only found naturally at one specific location in the world – a 1.5 km stretch of stream passing through the Hapugoda, Rabbidigala and Alpitiya villages of Galapitamada in the Kegalle District of Sri Lanka.
Further, this species is classified as a nationally and globally Critically Endangered (CR), and is considered to be on the cusp of extinction. Given that this species only occurs naturally outside the protected area network of Sri Lanka, its survival lies largely in the hands of the local communities living around its range. Therefore, the engagement of local communities, and the youth of the area, in particular, is critical to its survival in the long term. While the local communities of the area have been involved in the conservation of this species on a minor scale over the last decade, it is essential to strengthen their capacity to conserve this species, as well as their sense of custodianship with respect to the Bandula barb. Therefore, the IUCN Sri Lanka Country Office is currently in the process of implementing a project to conserve this species through the active participation of local communities, with financial support from the Toyota Environmental Activities Grant Program of the Toyota Motor Corporation.
While the Bandula barb conservation project is due to conclude at the end of 2014, a primary goal of the initiative is to build the capacity of the local community — particularly the youth of the area — to monitor and conserve this species beyond the scope of the project. Therefore, the project has a strong emphasis on developing the awareness and capacity of the young people of the area. As such, a biodiversity conservation training programme was conducted for 18 young persons from the area in early December, 2013. The youth of the area were then provided with an opportunity to put the skills they developed through this training programme into practice by participating in the Bandula barb population count conducted at the end of 2013.
During the population count conducted on 23 December, 2013, the number of Bandula barb individuals present was ascertained through a stream bank count, carried out in parallel with snorkeling to confirm stream bank sightings and count individuals that are hidden amongst the vegetation, or cannot be seen from the surface of the water. The count was carried out by a team consisting of members of the IUCN field team, and 12 local youth, who have developed the skills necessary to conduct such counts independently in future, through their participation in the exercise.
A total of 1, 073 Bandula barb individuals were counted during the survey. Given that only 598 individuals were counted in May, 2013, it was encouraging to note a considerable increase in the Bandula barb population by December, 2013. However, it is important to remember that there are only just over a thousand individuals of this species in the world. As such, both conservationists and local communities must persist in their conservation efforts if this fragile population is to survive in the long term.