For the first time, conservation action plans are being developed to protect South African fishes from extinction.
The IUCN / Wetlands International Freshwater Fish Specialist Group are leading the project through member Professor Paul Skelton, Managing Director of the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB).
Barnard’s Rock-catfish (Austroglanis barnardi) is one example of a threatened species it is hoped will benefit from the programme. This small river catfish is endemic to the Western Cape Province of South Africa and is listed as Endangered on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. It has been severely impacted by farming activities on tributaries of the Olifants River. Over many years, bulldozers have been used for the purpose of abstracting water to irrigate citrus crops. In the summer months, some streams preferred by the catfish are completely drained. Furthermore, new dams are under construction, pollution is affecting the water courses and a growing number of alien fish species have been introduced to the area. It is as yet unknown whether Barnard's Rock-catfish can co-exist indefinitely with these species.
The project was initiated in 2004, with the intent of getting to the bottom of threats facing endangered freshwater fishes and river habitiats in South Africa.
In particular, the aim was to improve the conservation status of three freshwater fish species by producing detailed conservation plans, involving multiple stakeholders and conservationists to implement the plans.
The project is now in the final stages, with most of the reports having been produced and the conservation plans scheduled for development over the coming months, with conservation actions to swiftly follow.
This is the first time species conservation plans are being developed for South African fishes and it is hoped that this project will provide a framework for the development of further plans for species in other regions.
Project collaborators include the Rand Afrikaans University (RAU), Western Cape Nature Conservation Board, AlbanyMuseum and the University of the Free State. The project was led by Professor Paul Skelton and co-ordinated by Roger Bills, both of the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity.