Recovery of the endangered Southern Purple Spotted Gudgeon is looking positive, with new offspring born and more fish on the way.

The Southern Purple Spotted Gudgeon is an Australian freshwater native fish found primarily in slow moving rivers, creeks and streams in Eastern New South Wales. The small species, at its longest 15cm, is endangered and becoming extremely rare in inland NSW. Threats such as predation from introduced fish, habitat disturbance and destruction, thermal pollution, waterway quality damage from livestock and agricultural runoff, and fluctuations in water levels from river regulation, which has impacted on inundation frequency of wetland breeding habitats, have all pushed the Southern Purple Spotted Gudgeon into small isolated populations, endangering the species. This has also reduced gene flow and genetic diversity as populations are unable to reach each other, making the species even more vulnerable to extinction.

A recent push from the NSW Department of Primary Industries to save endangered fish has been successful for the Southern Purple Spotted Gudgeon.

A sanctuary for the recovery of the species was established in late 2019 in Dubbo’s Taronga Western Plains Zoo to improve population numbers of the dwindling species after the recent drought. 38 fish have been housed in ponds in the lion’s enclosure at the Zoo, and so they have the “best bodyguards” to support their recovery, as explained in November by Maryrose Antico, NSW Department of Primary Industries Fisheries Manager. The fish have been rescued and relocated from sub-catchments of Macquarie River.

Lions at Toronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo. Photo Source: Daily Telegraph

They have been moved to the zoo as part of a broader $10 million commitment by the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) to “support native fish through the drought and bushfire season”, with the purpose of breeding and supporting population recovery. The fish being bred in captivity will “provide the genetic diversity” for an insurance population that can be released into the wild once drought and bushfire conditions improve.

2 different generations of juveniles have been found among the population and many of the adult fish appear to be in strong breeding conditions. This is a positive indication that the population has been reproducing whilst at the zoo.

Due to the success of the current population at Taronga Western Plains Zoo, 5 more Southern Purple Spotted Gudgeons have been moved from the DPI’s Narradera Fisheries Centre to the Zoo to improve the genetic diversity of the species’ gene pool. The aim is that the different populations will breed and this will make the Southern Purple Spotted Gudgeons more likely to survive when they are released back into rivers.

The Southern Purple Spotted Gudgeon is one of the ‘Magnificent Six’ native endangered fish, under the Tri-State Murray NRM Regional Alliance.

Bringing back ‘The Magnificent Six’

Learn more about why the Purple spotted gudgeon is one of the ‘Magnificant Six’ and the focus of an important Tri-State Alliance that has fish experts and waterway practitioners working together to restore small-bodied fish populations.