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Southeast Asia is a global hotspot for species richness and diversity. Sadly, much of this biodiversity is increasingly threatened. As of July 2019, 221 land and/or freshwater vertebrate species found in Southeast Asia are now listed as Critically Endangered (CR) by the IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM – indicative that these species face an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. This is an increase from the previous count of 199 species from earlier this year, with freshwater fishes accounting for all the new species on the list.

A Fishy Problem

Parosphromenus alfredi is a Critically Endangered peat swamp fish that occasionally occurs in the ornamental fish trade © Movin Nyanasengeran

Freshwater fishes see their numbers rise from 48 to 70 species, following the recent IUCN Red Listing workshop for Freshwater Fishes in the Sunda region (Western Indonesia and Malaysia) held in March this year. This event was co-organised by ASAP, IUCN Freshwater Biodiversity Unit, IUCN Conservation Planning Specialist Group (CPSG) and Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS). Although it is alarming to see such a spike in numbers, for many freshwater fish species this is the first time their risk of extinction has been assessed. This is the first step in highlighting the threats they face and will help to ensure that targeted conservation measures can be put in place to ensure their survival.

Many of the newly Critically Endangered fishes hail from peat swamp forests; a unique habitat characterised by acidic water the colour of freshly brewed tea. Over the course of millennia, many peat swamp fishes have evolved to thrive in these harsh environments. However, a consequence of these specialisations is that they are unable to survive elsewhere, and the widespread clearance of peat swamps for oil palm plantations and other forms of agriculture has resulted in the disappearance of many of these species from their former haunts. Many of these peat swamp endemics are often geographically restricted as well, with many isolated blocks of peat swamp forest hosting a small number of fish species found nowhere else.

Looking Forward

The increase in the number of Critically Endangered fishes on the recent Red List publication signals the urgency needed to avert extinctions and reverse declines in this neglected group. Though the situation may seem grim, we are optimistic that novel conservation strategies and partnerships will lead the way in saving these species on the brink!

If you, or your organisation, work on, or are keen to work on, any ASAP freshwater fish species, please get in touch!

Featured image © Movin Nyanasengeran

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4 thoughts on “Update to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: trends for ASAP Species

    Hi. My name is Lincoln . I am currently breeding the blue variety of asian arowana. My aim is to preserve and conserve this highly endangered fish and if not, aleady extinct in the wild kerian river of malaysia. My ultimate aim is to release some of my fish into their natural habitat AND to be monitored by scientists for a year or more until they breed in the wild again.please check out my web site. It would be great if people from the scientific world who share my dream can come to my farm to see for themself this highly endsngered fish. Awaiting your reply.

    Hi Lincoln! Thank you for writing in! Unfortunately, the Asian Arowana is not Critically Endangered and doesn’t qualify as an ASAP species, and it isn’t a taxon that we’re focused on. I’d recommend you reach out to other organisations to see if there’s a possibility to take your project further.


    We had been working in Lake Mainit, Mindanao Philippines largest (volume should be criteria) with diminishing peat swamp areas. Among globally threatened Caridina mindanao a micro-shrimp, local gobby called “pedianga” and long lists of catadromous and andradomous species. Rice and fish farm expansion appear serious threats with indiscriminate fishing with fine mesh nets and toxic chemicals . Looking forward to continue our work and hope partner Rainforest Trust would support conservation measures.

    Hi Gilceto,

    I would recommend you write in to Rainforest Trust directly, or potentially apply for their grant if your site meets their criteria.

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