New Fish Species Discovered in Venezuela

8/27/2003

Washington, DC - Conservation International (CI) announced today the discovery of a tiny fish with a blood red tail in Venezuela's Upper Caura River. Previously unknown to science, the bloodfin tetra (Aphyocharax yekwanae), is described in the March 2003 edition of the journal, Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters.

The two-inch-long tetra is only one of 10 new species of fish found during a single expedition by CI's Aquatic Rapid Assessment Program (AquaRAP) to the Caura River Basin in November 2000. The other species have yet to be described.

The RAP trip was organized by the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science (CABS) at CI to assess the biological diversity of the area, one of the most pristine and biologically intact in Venezuela.

The RAP team of national and international scientists recorded 399 plant and 278 fish species in the Caura River, including 10 new fish and one new shrimp species.

Because the Caura River Basin is so rich in animal and plant species and it is facing increasing threats from expanding agriculture frontiers, plans for a hydroelectric dam and commercial logging, conservationists are urging the Venezuelan government to create a new protected area in this region. Since its inception 13 years ago, RAP findings have boosted efforts to create new parks and protected areas in some of the biologically richest and most threatened places in the world.

"For every scientific expedition to the Caura River, researchers have recorded hundreds of species never seen before in the area," said Leeanne Alonso, RAP Senior Director at CI. "We're just scratching the surface of what's out there and I'm sure the Caura holds many more remarkable plants and animals that are completely new to science."

The Caura River Basin is home to 30 percent of all Venezuela's recorded species and 28 percent of the country's freshwater fish species. Comprised of inland and flooded forests, the vegetation around the basin is 85 percent intact and pristine, largely due to the indigenous Ye'kwana people, who carefully manage the area.

The bloodfin tetra was named after the Ye'Kwana people in Bolivar State, Venezuela in honor of their dedication towards protecting and managing their environment.

"The Caura River's biological importance has been underscored by the new discoveries and the remarkable findings of the RAP expedition that clearly illustrate that the Caura is worthy of protection," said CI-Venezuela Director Franklin Rojas. "For thousands of years the Ye'kwana have recognized the beauty and biological importance of this area; their very way of life and social fabric revolves around protecting it."

The Caura River Basin sits atop the Guayana Shield, a single massive geological formation that runs beneath northeastern South America. Formed more than two billion years ago, the shield supports the single most intact tropical wilderness area in the world. The Caura River is one of the greatest tributaries of the Orinoco River.

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