Leonardo DiCaprio has praised the work of Chester Zoo and its conservation partners in bringing a rare species of fish back to life.
Zoo conservationists worked alongside a team of global experts from the UK, North and Latin America to release 1,200 golden skiffia fish into Mexico’s Teuchitlan River for the first time in 30 years on Wednesday.
Cheshire Zoo thanked the Hollywood actor after he took to social media to share the news of the successful reintroduction with his 55.6 million Instagram followers.
The golden skiffia had been driven to extinction in the wild due to human disturbance from dam construction, water abstraction, pollution, and the introduction of invasive species.
DiCaprio’s post, which racked up more than 282,000 likes, featured a photograph of a golden skiffia surrounded by brightly colored flowers and colorful calaveras – the Mexican word for skulls – in reference to the Day of the Dead, which coincided with the release some fish.
Day of the Dead is a traditional Mexican celebration, when people’s deceased ancestors are believed to return to the land of the living for one night to talk and spend time with their families.
Omar Dominguez-Dominguez, a professor and researcher at Mexico’s Michoacan University, led the reintroduction of the golden skiffia and said returning the fish on the big day was an “amazing thing.”
Dominguez-Dominguez said: “Releasing the golden skiffia right now is a metaphor for how the species has come back from the dead to return to its home, not for one night, but forever.
“The release of this species into the wild is a beacon of hope for this wonderful family of fish – the goodeids – and for the conservation of freshwater fish more generally.
“Knowing that universities, zoos and aquarists can come together to repair some of what has been destroyed and give back to nature some of what has been lost is an amazing thing.”
In preparation for the species’ return to the wild, the fish were first placed in ponds to adapt to different conditions and then taken in floating pods, known as mesocosms, to the river where they lived for at least a month to further adapt to natural conditions before of the release.
The fish released into the wild have been tagged and will be monitored over the next five years to assess if the population is increasing and if the fish are successfully breeding and growing in the river.
Paul Bamford, regional program manager for Latin America at Chester Zoo, said: “This project is a great example of how zoos can contribute to conservation in the field through breeding and conservation research, using the skills and experience that have been developed in zoos to help strengthen existing and new wildlife populations.
“By supporting the conservation of Mexico’s freshwater and the ecosystems in which fish live, we are not only protecting the biodiversity and well-being of freshwater environments, but also the people and communities that live next to them.”
The project is part of Fish Ark Mexico, a conservation project in central Mexico that focuses on 41 highly endangered freshwater fish species.
In 2014, scientists from the Michoacan University of Mexico and aquarists from the Goodeid Working Group helped restore degraded habitat and remove non-native species from the Teuchitlan ecosystem.
The release of golden skiffia comes just a few years after the successful reintroduction of splitfin tequila, which faced very similar threats to golden skiffia and was also prevented from extinction following a conservation action by experts at Chester Zoo .