21st Nov 2019
Animal species are going out of existence at a faster rate than at any other time in human history. To highlight this problem and to document the issue, so raising awareness, National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore is in the middle of an ambitious 25 year project called The Photo Ark.
The Photo Ark aims to photograph animals in captivity that are in danger of going extinct in the wild. Now 13 years into the project, Joel has reached the milestone of documenting his 9000th species and adding it to the list. His latest addition is the tiny but colourful Bandula Barb (Pethia bandula).
Of course you might not have actually heard of the Bandula Barb, chiefly because it is so rare. While these tiny fish measure little over an inch they are surprisingly bright and colourful for such a tiddler. Barbs are actually related as a species to minnows and carp. They are found in freshwater in tropical regions. However this particular species of barb is found in only one stream which is situated just outside the village of Galapitamada in the Kegalle district of Sri Lanka.
When the Bandula Barb were first discovered in 1991 their population at that time was estimated to be around 2000. 10 years later numbers had dwindled to an alarming 300! This was thought to be due to the effects of fertilizers and pesticides utilised in nearby rice fields and rubber plantations. Fast forward to 2013 and the Sri Lankan Ministry of Environment instigated an emergency action plan to save the Bandula.
The plan involved making the fishes habitat a protected area and creating community based mechanisms and schemes which were designed with the purpose of conserving protecting the species. The local community embraced and got fully onboard with the program and now 5 years later the population of the Bandula has increased to around 1300.
Freshwater fish are actually the largest threatened taxon there is. But this story only goes to highlight what can be done when people work together to protect our precious endangered wildlife, and it looks like this story has a happy ending, with at least one precious species of beautiful and colourful fish having been saved from the extinction bin of natural history.