In the heart of Türkiye, along the winding course of the Tigris River, a group of determined ichthyologists has unveiled a tale of triumph and hope. Rediscovering the elusive leopard barbel (Luciobarbus subquincunciatus), a once-abundant carp-like species, signifies a remarkable victory over the threats of extinction that had haunted its existence for the past three decades. This extraordinary find emerges against a backdrop of challenges—fishing, pollution, habitat destruction, and dam construction—that had pushed the leopard barbel to the very edge of oblivion, with its last documented sighting in 2011.

Guided by the whispers of local fishers and armed with a commitment to conservation, associate professor Cüneyt Kaya and assistant professor Münevver Oral from Recep Tayyip Erdogan University embarked on a mission that transcended the boundaries of scientific discovery. This journey not only celebrates the rediscovery of a “legend” but also encapsulates the spirit of collaboration between scientific expertise and local wisdom. The ichthyologists’ relentless pursuit, coupled with the unexpected encounter with a local fisherman, Mehmet Ülkü, illuminates a path forward—a path marked by the joyous release of the leopard barbel and a shared commitment to safeguarding our planet’s diverse and endangered freshwater species.

Rediscovery of the Leopard Barbel

The Turkish section of the Tigris River has become the stage for a remarkable event as a team of dedicated ichthyologists successfully rediscovered the leopard barbel (Luciobarbus subquincunciatus), a carp-like, spotted fish that was once abundant across Eastern Türkiye, Eastern Syria, Iran, and Iraq in the Tigris-Euphrates river system. This rediscovery of invasive species comes after three decades of decline, where fishing, pollution, habitat destruction, and dam construction pushed the species to the brink of extinction, with the last scientific documentation dating back to 2011.

Local Wisdom Guides Rediscovery

Local fishers, guided by anecdotal evidence, suggested the possibility that the leopard barbel might still exist. This prompted associate professor Cüneyt Kaya and assistant professor Münevver Oral from Recep Tayyip Erdogan University to collaborate with these local experts in a mission to find the elusive fish. The success of this endeavor resonates beyond mere scientific achievement, as Kaya expresses the exhilaration of offering a second chance to a species on the verge of extinction, a sensation even more profound than the discovery of a new species.

Dams and Altered Water Flow

The journey to rediscover the leopard barbel was not without challenges. The construction of nine dams in the Turkish portion of the Tigris River altered water flow regimes, compelling the research team to adapt their strategy. Cold water accumulating at the bottom of reservoirs, released downstream, posed a unique challenge as freshwater fish, including the leopard barbel, tend to migrate towards warmer waters. The team’s resilience and strategic adjustments were crucial in overcoming these hurdles.

A Serendipitous Encounter

Days after the second expedition, a fortuitous event unfolded through a video call from local fisherman Mehmet Ülkü. He had captured a 20-inch, 4.4-pound fish with distinctive black spots, confirming the presence of the leopard barbel. With the fish alive in a tank, Kaya and Oral embarked on a swift journey to Cizre in Turkish Kurdistan, where the species was found. This unexpected encounter highlighted the importance of local knowledge in conservation efforts.

Conservation in Action: Joyous Release and Future Plans

Upon arriving in Cizre, the researchers, alongside the local fisheries aquaculture department, released the leopard barbel back into its natural habitat. The event was described as joyous, marking a crucial step in safeguarding the species. Looking ahead, Kaya and Oral plan to conduct seminars for fishers and teachers, leveraging the rediscovery as a case study to instill pride in riverways and wildlife. This educational initiative aims to unite scientific knowledge with local expertise to protect the Tigris River and its rich biodiversity.

Rediscovery and Conservation Funding

The expedition to confirm the existence of the leopard barbel was co-funded by Re:wild, a global leader in rediscovering lost species and their protection. This marks the second success on Re:wild and SHOAL’s Most Wanted Lost Fishes list, following the rediscovery of the Batman River loach in Southeastern Türkiye in late 2021. The involvement of global organizations underscores the importance of international collaboration in conservation efforts, emphasizing the interconnectedness of ecosystems and the need for a united front in protecting endangered species.


In conclusion, the rediscovery of the leopard barbel in the Turkish section of the Tigris River is a poignant testament to the resilience of endangered species when met with collaborative efforts. The ichthyologists’ success in locating this once-thought-lost fish not only rekindles hope for the leopard barbel but also serves as a beacon for global conservation initiatives. The encounter, guided by local insights and facilitated by the unwavering commitment of researchers, fishermen, and conservation organizations like Re:wild, underscores the importance of uniting scientific knowledge with grassroots efforts. The joyous release of the leopard barbel into its natural habitat marks a symbolic victory, offering a second chance for this species on the brink of extinction. As the journey continues, the lessons learned from this rediscovery will undoubtedly inspire future endeavors to protect and preserve our planet’s diverse and fragile ecosystems.