Endangered Species: Residents of This Mexican Village Celebrate the Return of Tequila Fish

It measures only a few centimeters and bears the name of a famous Mexican ghost: in Teuchitlan, a city in western Mexico, the inhabitants celebrate the unexpected return to the waters of their rivers of the tequila fish, an endemic species that is critically endangered.

The geographical distribution of this fish is extremely limited: it is found only in the waters of the Teuchitlan River and the drainages of the Ameca River, in the Mexican state of Jalisco (west).

In 1998, the species was considered “extinct” due to habitat fragmentation, pollution and competition from other non-endemic fish, according to data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

However, American and British scientists had preserved specimens in aquariums, which allowed a few years later to launch a process of reintroducing the fish to its native habitat, led by the Michoacane University of San Nicolas de Hidalgo.

After a two-year phase in the lab, the project started in 2014 and several reintroductions of fish into the river have taken place, the last in 2018, Omar Dominguez, biologist and program manager, explained to AFP.

Currently, the number of tequila fish is estimated to be between 1,500 and 2,000, and if the species remains “endangered” according to the IUCN, the population is considered growing.

The small fish – it measures between 6 and 8 centimeters in adult size – is a “key element of the ecosystem”emphasizes Omar Dominguez.

In addition to its name, which refers to that of a local valley and mountain, it has very specific characteristics: it is viviparous, meaning that the fetus develops in the mother’s body for 45 days; he is also a meat eater “feeding with, for example, mosquito larvae, that makes the environment healthy for humans”

“Unique in the World”

The reintroduction project mainly involved the 10,000 inhabitants of Teuchitlan, mainly children, who educate visitors not only about the importance of protecting the natural habitat of the tequila fish, but also about its uniqueness.

“It is they, the children, who go to the visitors who are on the banks of the river and explain to them that in this river lives a small fish unique in the world (…) and that they participated in the reintroduction of it “tells AFP Consuelo Rivera, 70, a retired teacher from Teuchitlan.

The citizens’ collective “Guardians of the river” also organizes information campaigns and workshops for children about fauna and flora.

Tourism is also part of the reintroduction project. In the coastal area of ​​​​El Rincon, several natural pools, fed by the waters of the river, are very popular with local tourists who attribute therapeutic virtues to them.

Swimmers can then swim with the tequila fish, which the locals also call “gallito” (little roosters) because of the orange stripe on the tail of the male that uses it to court the female.

“There are a lot of these little fishes, they swim with the swimmers and sometimes they start biting people, to caress them”laughs Maria Aurea Martinez, an employee of the coastal area.

For the pastor of Teuchitlan, Father Jaime Navel, this return is a miracle. “The little fish has come back to life, it has come back to life”he rejoices and celebrates the return of “joy in the community”.


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