Chester Zoo has been praised by Leonardo DiCaprio for its work helping to reintroduce near-extinct fish species to their native habitat in Mexico.

Goldfish have not been seen swimming in their only known habitat, the Teochitlan River in central-western Mexico, since the 1990s.

To coincide with Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations this month, experts from Chester Zoo and the University of Michoacán in Mexico have released 1,200 golden canoes back to their native river after a conservation breeding program.

DiCaprio, 48, who has long described himself as an environmentalist, praised the project on Instagram.

The Hollywood actor has spoken at major climate summits, including the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016.

The team in Chester, who helped prepare the fish for wildlife before they were released, were delighted with the endorsement and replied, “Thank you for sharing this wonderful story!”

Golden canoes were brought to near extinction by dam building, water extraction, pollution, and invasive species in their river.

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After numbers plummeted, in 2014 scientists from the University of Michoacán and fishkeepers from the Goodied Working Group helped restore the water and remove any harmful species that could threaten the fish that live there.

Under the breeding programme, their numbers rose and they were cared for by experts in the UK and Latin America as the population grew.

Golden shed.  Pic: Chester Zoo
Golden shed. Pic: Chester Zoo

Put the fish in pods before heading to Mexico

Chester Zoo placed the fish in floating pods called intermediate floats, where they lived for a month to help them adjust to natural conditions before transporting them to Mexico.

Before giving them away, they were tagged so they could be watched for five years to see how the population increased.

Golden barges in pods preparing to be released.  Pic: Manfred Meiners
Golden barges in pods preparing to be released. Pic: Manfred Meiners
The University of Michoacan weighs in the golden boat.  Pic: Manfred Meiners
A team from the University of Michoacan weighs in the golden canoe. Pic: Manfred Meiners

Paul Bamford, Regional Program Director for Latin America at Chester Zoo said: “This project is a great example of how zoos can contribute to conservation in this area through breeding and conservation.

“By supporting the conservation of freshwater Mexico and the ecosystems in which fish live, we protect not only the biodiversity and well-being of freshwater environments, but also the people and communities that live alongside them.”

Omar Domínguez Dominguez, a professor and researcher from the University of Michoacán in Mexico who is leading the reintroduction of the golden schooner, said: “Releasing the golden schooner at this time is a metaphor for how a species comes from death to return to its home not for one night but for eternity.

“Knowing that universities, zoos and aquarists can come together to fix some of what’s been destroyed and put some of what’s lost back into nature is amazing.”

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