Kezia Toh – Straits Times Indonesia
When a fisherman came to her office to complain that the numbers of giant freshwater stingrays were dwindling, Nantarika Chansue started to dig around.
After poring through scientific journals, the director of the Veterinary Medical Aquatic Animal Research Centre of Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University realized that there was scant information about the endangered species.
Known as the largest freshwater fish in the world, the greyish-brown stingray can be up to 6m long and tip the scales at 600kg.
Chansue got in touch with Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), which led to a partnership being signed on Wednesday at the Singapore Zoo.
Scientists will tag six wild stingrays – native to Thailand and some parts of South-east Asia – at the Mae Klong River in Amphawa.
Planting the satellite tags – whose lengths range from 7cm to 10cm – will help scientists study the migration pattern and behavior of the species.
Chansue said: “If we find out where they go and how they move, we can breed them and hopefully increase their numbers in the wild.”
In Thailand, there is no law to prevent the megafish from being hunted. Overfishing and increasingly polluted rivers have slashed its numbers.
It will cost about 4,000 Singapore dollars (US$3,108) – borne by WRS – to tag each stingray once the project kicks off in April.
Stingrays caught will be measured and have their blood and tissue samples taken before they are released back to the wild and tracked for a year.
Knowing where these megafish roam would also give scientists an idea of which areas should be conserved, said Chansue.
Sonja Luz, deputy director for conservation, research and the learning centre at WRS, said: “This study may also shed light on the possibility of a viable managed-breeding program for this species at our aquatic facility in the River Safari.”
WRS already has three of these stingrays, which will be housed in the River Safari sited between the Night Safari and the Singapore Zoo. It is slated to open later this year.
The river-themed wildlife attraction will feature river ecosystems around the world and a panda exhibit with two pandas on a 10-year loan from China.
Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times Indonesia. To subscribe to Straits Times Indonesia and/or the Jakarta Globe call 021 2553 5055.