Hope is finally burning bright for ‘Puntius Denisonii’, an ornamental fish known across the globe as ‘Miss Kerala’, and one which has been facing the danger of extinction, thanks to unabated commercial exports.

A freshwater fish that was once endemic and largely exclusive to the running waters of the Achenkovil and Chaliyar rivers, Miss Kerala, also known as the Red Line Torpedo Barb, was a major export revenue earner for the State in the ornamental fish export sector, with each of these beauties raking in at least Rs.1,500. However, with no apparent steps from authorities concerned to curb the exports, the Barb was slowly swimming towards becoming history.

Now, giving a shot in the arm for those fighting to save the ‘Miss Kerala’, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has put her on its Red List, regarded the most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of plant and animal species since 1963.

The IUCN Red List (www.iucn.org), says the Puntius Denisonii is “vulnerable” because it has a restricted Extent of Occurrence (less than 20,000 km²), and is suffering from a decline in habitat quality and number of mature individuals.

‘Miss Kerala’, according to the list, is found in only four locations - the Cheenkannipuzha (tributary of the Valapattanam River), Achenkovil, Chaliyar, and near Mundakayam. The Red List also states that the fish is likely to be threatened by habitat degradation.

Breeding of the Miss Kerala has seen only limited success. Though a section of the media reported in December 2009 that it was bred in captivity for the first time in Kerala, the actual credit goes to the Chester Zoo and to two amateur Chennai-based individual fish lovers, Rabi Venkatesh and Murali, a success reported in The Hindu on October 16, 2008.

Interestingly, though the State Department of Fisheries has issued an order restricting catching and exporting ‘Miss Kerala’, the fish is yet to be listed as per the National Wildlife Protection Act. Together with ‘Miss Kerala’, 52 other species of freshwater fishes from India have been placed under various threat categories in the IUCN Red List.

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