ChapterPDF Available

Prioritizing freshwater fish conservation in Western Ghats Hotspot: Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) sites



No caption available
Content may be subject to copyright.
Results show that most of the freshwater KBAs and KBA Focal Areas (some of which are Alliance for Zero
Extinction sites) have little or no overlap with the existing protected areas. Only one KBA Focal Area (in the
Moyar River KBA) is fully incorporated into the protected area network, and the Focal Areas of the Upper
Vaigai River and the Periyar KBAs are mostly covered (see Box 4.1). The remaining KBA Focal Areas receive
very little protection from protected areas, especially in lowland and coastal areas50. Despite the importance
for freshwater ecosystems in the region, with several highly diverse large river systems (e.g., Mekong River,
Brahmaputra River and Yangtze river) on which millions of people depend, no comprehensive assessment
of protected area coverage of freshwater biodiversity has been completed.
Box 4.1. Prioritizing freshwater fish conservation in Western Ghats Hotspot:
Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) sites
Sanjay Molur* and Rajeev Raghavan*,**
The rivers draining the Western Ghats Biodiversity Hotspot in India harbour an extraordinary diversity (~335
species) and endemism (65%) of freshwater fishes, many of which occur inside the terrestrial protected area
(PA) network that dots the landscape. The number of freshwater fish species that occur in some of these PAs
probably far exceeds those of mammals, birds and reptiles. Yet, protected areas in the Western Ghats and the
rest of India rarely acknowledge the importance, or need for conserving freshwater fish. This is worrying as some
of these PAs are potential freshwater ‘Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE)’ sites, i.e. sites that harbour 95% of the
population of one or more ‘Critically Endangered’ and/or ‘Endangered’ species.
The Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR), an IUCN category II Protected Area, is one such site. Although the PTR is
globally renowned for its large mammal diversity, and particularly its tiger conservation efforts, the reserve
harbours an exceptionally high diversity of endemic and threatened freshwater fishes, unmatched anywhere in
South Asia, and as such qualifies as a unique hotspot. However, this importance of PTR in combating global
freshwater fish extinctions has gone largely unnoticed and unrecognized the broad catchment area feeding
into the Periyar Lake with several primary and secondary order streams is the last refuge for one genus,
Lepidopygopsis, and eight species of freshwater fish51.
Three of these eight endemic species
are categorized as ‘Endangered’ in the
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species thus
triggering the Alliance for Zero Extinction
(AZE) criteria, and qualifying PTR as an
AZE site, representing high conservation
priorities. Although these eight endemic
species are ‘protected’ in view of their
occurrence inside the boundary of the
reserve, no species specific, or general
‘fish’ conservation efforts are in place. On
the other hand, there are several stressors
that threaten the survival of these endemic
species, including the introduction,
escape and proliferation of exotic species,
unmanaged harvests and pollution.
Several research and outreach organizations are now working together to eliminate the existing threats and
conserve the endemic species of this reserve. This effort is coordinated by the Indian Alliance for Zero Extinction
(In AZE) based at the Zoo Outreach Organization (ZOO), Coimbatore, India, and the South Asia office of the IUCN
SSC/WI Freshwater Fish Specialist Group (FFSG). A project funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund
(CEPF) has helped to improve awareness, capacity building, monitoring and policy interventions for freshwater
fish species, and has led to the listing of PTR as India’s first ‘Freshwater Alliance for Zero Extinction site’.A unique
participatory campaign was organized in April 2013 to eradicate the African Catfish, Clariasgariepinus, the
most important alien species in the water bodies of the reserve, which resulted in the capture and removal of 92
*Zoo Outreach Organization (ZOO), Coimbatore, India
**Conservation Research Group (CRG), St. Albert’s College, Kochi, India
Full-text available
Freshwater biodiversity is under great threat across the globe as evidenced by more severe declines relative to other types of ecosystems. One of the main stressors responsible for these concerning trends is habitat fragmentation, degradation, and loss stemming from anthropogenic activities including energy production, urbanization, agriculture, and resource extraction. Habitat protection and restoration both play an integral role in efforts to save freshwater biodiversity and associated ecosystem services from further decline. In this paper, we summarize the sources of threats associated with habitat fragmentation, degradation, and loss, and then outline response options to protect and restore freshwater habitats. Specific response options are to: legislate the protection of healthy and productive freshwater ecosystems; prioritize habitats for protection and restoration; enact durable protections; conserve habitat in a coordinated and integrated manner; engage in evidence-based restoration using an adaptive management approach; ensure that potential freshwater habitat alterations are mitigated or off-set; and future-proof protection and restoration actions. Such work should be done through a lens that engages and involves local community members. We identify three broad categories of obstacles that arise during the implementation of the response options outlined: a) scientific (e.g., inaccessible data or uncertainties), b) institutional and management (e.g., capacity issues or differing goals across agencies), and c) social and political (e.g., prioritizing economic development over conservation initiatives). The protection and restoration of habitats is key to bending the curve for freshwater biodiversity, with a comprehensive, connected, and coordinated effort of response options needed to protect intact habitats and restore fragmented, degraded, and lost habitats and the biodiversity and ecosystem services that they support.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.