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Lost Leopard-Spotted Fish in Türkiye Rediscovered

A team of ichthyologists in Turkey has rediscovered the lost leopard-spotted fish in the Tigris River, sparking hope for its recovery. Previously, the leopard-spotted fish was close to extinction, with dams and water extractions in the area thought to be to blame alongside fishing, pollution, and habitat destruction.

Image of the rediscovered leopard barbel. Image Credits: Metin Göksu

Cüneyt Kaya, associate professor at Recep Tayyip Erdogan University and member of the expedition team, stated: "There is nothing quite like the feeling of finding that a species that has been pushed to the brink of extinction is still hanging on, despite the odds. It is even more thrilling than discovering a new species because it means that we can give a rare species a second chance. With both the Batman River loach and now the leopard barbel, we have an obligation to mobilize conservation efforts to ensure neither becomes lost again."

Finding the lost leopard-spotted fish

Together, the ichthyologists and the local fisheries aquaculture department studied scientific literature to determine where the species was previously found in the Tigris-Euphrates river system. However, they adapted their search to move further downstream where the warmer waters and the fish would be.

The team was triumphant only a few days after the first two expeditions. They had found the spotted leopard barbel, otherwise known as the Luciobarbus subquincunciatus, with local fisherman Mehmet Ülkü being the lucky one to catch it. The leopard barbel in question was 20 inches and weighed 4.4 pounds. However, this wasn't the only victory for the team.

Image of the leopard barbel caught safely in the teams net. Image Credits: Metin Göksu

Mehmet Ülkü caught not just one, but two leopard barbels, sparking hope for the species' future. Speaking to Re:wild, Münevver Oral, an assistant professor at Recep Tayyip Erdogan University expressed his joy: "We dropped everything and would have gone to the ends of the Earth to see this fish, this legend, alive in the wild. I have never seen a fish as beautiful as this. It was the realization not only of our dream to find this lost species, but of the hope that not all is lost—we still have a chance to protect the leopard barbel and all of the other incredible freshwater species it shares its home with."

Image of the leopard barbel release team. Image Credits: Metin Göksu

After the team had all seen the leopard barbels and noted down their shape and size for documentation, they released them safely back into the wild. With their rediscovery, they hope to protect the species natural habitat. Looking to the future, both Cüneyt Kaya and Oral plan to conduct many seminars for fishers and teachers to help build pride in their riverways and wildlife and emphasize how important it is to protect their Tigris River.

Interestingly, this river is also where the Batman River Loach was rediscovered in Turkey after 50 years. With the team's recent success over the last few years, who knows what other species they could discover in the future?

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