December 5, 2023

Pet Life Today

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Rare snakehead fish from Assam on the brink of extinction

  • Channa barca or the Barca snakehead fish, a uncommon species of snakehead endemic to the upper Brahmaputra river basin in northeastern India and Bangladesh.
  • Because it is a scarce, ornamental fish, it is in significant need in the international sector and is vulnerable to illegal trade. But it nonetheless does not have considerable authorized defense.
  • There have been proposals to involve it as a scheduled animal in India’s wildlife regulations although some experts say that if the govt wants to exploit the professional benefit of the ornamental fish, it should really be done by way of captive breeding and monoculture.

It is late May well and it has been raining continuously because the very last three days. The beels and ponds of Orang Nationwide Park in Assam are filling up once more. Monsoon is here and so is the season to make some excess bucks, Jalaluddin assumed to himself. He has previously reviewed this with a several community fishermen of the fringe villages of the Park. If they can catch the ‘Pipli Cheng’ fish for him, he has promised to reward them handsomely. The purchaser in Guwahati has promised him Rs. 35,000 for a single ‘Pipli Cheng’ fish. Even if he has to pay out Rs. 10,000 for a single fish to the fisherman, he can nonetheless make a first rate revenue, Jalaluddin appreciates.

‘Pipli Cheng’ or ‘Cheng Garaka’ is the regional title for the Channa barca or the Barca snakehead fish, a rare species of snakehead endemic to the upper Brahmaputra river basin in northeastern India and Bangladesh. It was to start with explained by Scottish physician Francis Hamilton in 1822 who created significant contributions as a zoologist among the other disciplines when residing in India. He has described it as Ophiocephalus barca (now genus Channa) 1st viewed in the Brahmaputra river in the vicinity of Golpara in Assam.

In the existing situations, it is mainly identified in and all around the Orang National Park positioned on the northern lender of the Brahmaputra river. It is now a exceptional decorative fish and by no means collected in quantities.

“It is discovered in the Brahmaputra basin which, due to the fact of currently being a flood susceptible location, satisfies its normal habitat. It is an ornamental species of fish and uncovered in parts of Assam exactly where there is a confluence of a wetland and the Brahmaputra river or one particular of its tributaries. It is also noted to be found in some sections of Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh,” mentioned Sushil Kumar Sarmah, Associate Professor, Zoology Department, Guwahati Town Higher education, Assam. “It is a really threatened species and at any minute, it may possibly totally vanish.”

The fish normally takes refuge in vertical burrows or holes along the peripheries of wetlands that usually dry up throughout the wintertime. These metre-deep burrows typically direct to a even larger chamber with a groundwater desk that rises up for the duration of the monsoon year top to the fish emerging to hunt and breed. For the duration of this time period, the monsoon season, is also when it will get hunted by poachers.

Why the demand from customers?

This snakehead fish is desirable to glimpse at and has large ornamental value amongst expert aquarists, in nationwide and global markets. Due to the fact it is seldom out there and limited to only a certain area of the Brahmaputra basin, it has become incredibly pricey above the yrs and now counted as a person of the most pricey fish in the entire world. All round, it has been assessed as details deficient by the IUCN and in 2014 it was assessed by the IUCN as critically endangered due to habitat loss in Bangladesh.

In August 2017, eight numbers of this species had been caught getting smuggled near the Orang National Park. The smuggler was planning to offer the decorative fish to Kolkata. The following month, five more of this species had been seized in close proximity to Orang Nationwide Park.

In October 2019, two folks ended up caught red-handed by the regional Dalgaon police station of Orang Nationwide Park when they were attempting to smuggle a Channa barca fish to Guwahati. According to reports, they were scheduling to offer it in Guwahati at 4 occasions the cost. These two people today seemed to be, what are commonly referred to as, the “middlemen”.

In August, 2019, a poacher – typically named the “catcher” – was caught with a Channa barca fish by forest guards inside the Park.

A trader who is involved in the aquarium fish trade in Guwahati but refused to determine himself said that the fish is smuggled to Kolkata by using Guwahati from in which it is exported to various nations.

“At the floor degree, the catchers do not get a great deal dollars but as quickly as a middleman will get associated, it will become costlier by the time it reaches Guwahati and the cost of a single fish shoots up. When it reaches nations around the world like China, the value goes up even even more,” he explained.

Why Orang?

Orang Countrywide Park is 1 of the oldest sport reserves of the condition (1915) and according to lots of, it was dwelling to the Orang tribe prior to they left this position just after a fatal illness distribute in the location.

“Orang National Park (ONP) stands on the north bank of the River Brahmaputra and has considerable connectivity with Kaziranga, Nameri, Burachapori as a result of a riverine landscape called Kaziranga-Orang riverine landscape (KOL),” claimed Dipankar Lahkar, Supervisor, Tiger Investigate and Conservation Division-Aaranyak, who has comprehensive expertise about the location.

“KOL gives organic permeability to the ONP with the floodplains of the Kaziranga landscape and on the north-west, two riverine corridors, Dhansiri and Pachnoi rivers, linked to forest complexes of the TraMCA (Transboundary Manas Conservation Spot) on the Indo-Bhutan border,” Lahkar extra.

“About 8-10% of the region of ONP is covered by h2o bodies that incorporate 12 wetlands and 26 male-designed ponds,” he further extra.

These wetlands, ponds and the rivers with the Brahmaputra flowing close by have evolved into an ecosystem that is property to various unusual, decorative species of fish like the Channa barca.

Orang Nationwide Park in Assam. Image by special arrangement.

The dilemma

The trouble lies in the point that there are nevertheless no right rules or initiatives by the federal government to recognise this uncommon species of fish and guard it from smuggling.

“Since it is a rare decorative fish, it is in large need in the intercontinental market place. But the greatest dilemma is that it is however not bundled under the Program Part-II A (Fishes) of the Wild Lifetime Security Act, 1972. If they can someway handle to smuggle out the fish from the National Park then they can simply mix it with other regular fishes as it does not occur beneath any Act. It is like transporting any other usual fish,” said Pradipta Baruah, DFO Mangaldoi, where by Orang is found.

As soon as the wet season starts, beels and ponds of Orang Nationwide Park are loaded up with h2o and persons from the fringe locations of the Park try out to secretly sneak in and catch this fish in the hope of earning some easy dollars. Some of them are apprehended but many control to catch the fish and smuggle it out.

“So, by patrolling, we check out to guarantee that the smugglers really do not get to enter the Park. Some digital devices have also been put up at strategic locations to control the entry of poachers. Still some miscreants deal with to sneak in from time to time. Our intelligence community is there and the law enforcement also cooperate. We have also managed to nab some and recently three poachers were being arrested,” he extra.

There have been numerous allegations by locals and local organisations that some forest officers/guards were included in the smuggling of this rare fish from the Orang National Park. Local newspapers in vernacular language ran various information studies in which it has been alleged that at the very least a portion of the forest guards had been concerned in poaching actions.

“Some forest officials/guards have been surely involved and they had authorized this rare fish to be caught and smuggled out of the Park. But these forest persons ended up, of late, transferred from the distinct place wherever this was going on and hopefully now this will stop. But then once more, this happens in the monsoon time, now is not the time,” explained Abdul Aziz, secretary of Dalgaon Vanya-Prani Suraksha Samiti, a neighborhood wildlife safety NGO of Orang Nationwide Park.

This has been denied by the forest division time and once more.

“This is not so genuine. We will get to know if they are concerned. It is also correct that at times if patrolling is not done effectively then some people get a possibility of it,” clarified the DFO.


“I have filed a ask for to consist of the individual fish underneath the Wildlife Security Act, 1972 as a scheduled animal. The State Wildlife Board experienced suggested previously to include things like it as a scheduled animal. We have accordingly proposed this to the federal government but this are unable to be performed by the condition governing administration, the central authorities has to do it. It is beneath owing process,” the DFO Baruah claimed.

On the other hand, zoologists like Sarmah have argued that if the federal government needs to exploit the industrial value of the ornamental fish endemic to the area then it should be carried out in a right way through captive breeding and monoculture.

“We had done a feasibility study of ornamental fish trade in which we had clearly outlined that these ornamental fish species endemic to the area must by no means be exported without having captive breeding even if there is a big demand from customers internationally,” said Sarmah.

“If threatened species are exported without having captive breeding or mass propagation then they will before long stop to exist in the location. A correct and rigid checking method need to be put in position in exit points like the airport and the railway stations so that these very threatened fish species simply cannot be smuggled out,” he included.

“Monoculture should really also be accomplished if captive breeding is completed at all, so that the woman of the species is not exported out and so that the ornamental and endemic position of the species is not compromised,” Sarmah stressed.

Examine extra: Gollum surfaces in India: Researchers doc the to start with underground snakehead fish


Banner impression: A recovered Channa barca fish from 2018. Image courtesy Northeast Now.