Romanian non-profit raises donations to save endangered “living fossil” fish and its habitat
Alex Gavan Foundation, a non-profit set up by leading Romanian mountaineer and environmentalist Alex Gavan, is raising donations for a project aimed at saving a "living fossil" fish that still survives in a very restricted area in the Valsan Valley in Romania's Fagaras Mountains.
The asprete (Romanichthys valsanicola) is a 65 million-year-old species, which means it is contemporary with the last dinosaurs that walked the Earth. It is the rarest fish in Europe and, by some estimates, even in the world. And unfortunately, it is now facing complete extinction, with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) rating it as "Critically Endangered." The threats are numerous and varied but mainly related to human activity, such as pollution, the unsustainable exploitation of rivers, the theft of riverbed gravel, or the unauthorized cutting of trees along the river.
Local environmentalists have managed to film and photograph the asprete in the fall of 2020. The images came to confirm that the fish still survives in the Valsan River (pictured below), although its area of distribution has shrunk dramatically.
In a recent Facebook post, Alex Gavan invites people to join the fight to save the asprete and donate to his Foundation. The funds raised will be used to build a base for the research and captive breeding of asprete, which will also serve as a visitor centre, and for the ecological restoration of the Valsan river - the prehistoric fish's last tiny home. The centre will be developed in the Bradulet commune in Valsan Valley.
"For those who resonate or feel the same way, for those who find it appropriate, I invite you to join in the effort started in 2019, the effort of my wonderful team and mine to save from extinction and preserve the asprete (Romanychthys valsanicola), the fossil fish that is 65 million years old and contemporary with the last dinosaurs," reads Gavan's post on Facebook.
"Our brother is still living in only a few specimens in the valley of my childhood, in the Valsan river, in the Fagaras Mountains. Our "wisdom" turned it into the rarest fish in Europe and, according to some estimates, even in the world," he added.
According to Gavan, the project is actually divided into four main pillars. Thus, besides the new centre and the ecological reconstruction of the Valsan river, the NGO also wants to find ways to involve the state authorities (as the species' survival largely depends on political will) and the local community in saving and preserving the habitat of this extremely rare fish. The campaign is promoted with the motto #AspreteLives (#AspreteleTraieste).
"My team and I are actively, enthusiastically and humbly pursuing our plan in saving and conserving the asprete, while also involving in the process and getting support from the local community. A crucial step is the creation of the Fluvarium, that is the special research and captive breeding base that will also serve as a green and immersing visitor center. The much needed ecological reconstruction of the river is another of the pillars toward fulfilling our vision. We also have a strong and efficient advocacy voice towards the Romanian state institutions to make sure the environmental laws are obeyed and enforced by cultivating a hand extending approach with them," Alex Gavan told Romania-insider.com.
Those who want to donate can do so by redirecting small shares of their income or revenue taxes to the Alex Gavan Foundation (an option valid for both individuals and companies). Donations can also be made by bank transfer or even cryptocurrency. Further details (in Romanian) are available here.
Alex Gavan is a leading high altitude climber of Romania, having reached seven of the world's 14 peaks over 8,000 meters without supplemental oxygen or high altitude porters. He also used the summits of the world's highest mountains to advance environmental causes, such as the quest against illegal logging, protecting and conserving Romania's virgin forests, or creating the Bucharest Green Belt. In fact, he launched his campaign to save the asprete in July 2019 as he climbed the seventh peak of over 8,000 meters - Gasherbrum 2.
(Opening photo: the asprete; photo source: Andrei Togor, Marcus Drimbea I Alex Gavan Foundation)