Every year, the El Socorro Centre for Wildlife Conservation design and present an outreach exhibit at a science fair in Point Fortin, near the south-westerly tip of Trinidad. This year the theme was to be the wildlife of Matura, with an emphasis on the freshwater fish, so the Centre’s founder, Ricardo Meade, asked me to assist.
I was more than happy to get involved, and while Ricardo and his team had the hard task of constructing tanks and catching fish, I set to work illustrating and researching the various species to compile a set of educational posters and labels to accompany the display. This wasn’t hard as most of the species were those that we commonly come across on our BioTIME surveys.
These fish can be found in quite urban settings, as well as mountain streams– so along with another volunteer, Wayne, I headed off to the local drainage ditch to see if we might at least find something worth adding to the display. By now it was 10pm at night. The first fish we came across were, of course, shoals and shoals of guppies (Poecilia reticulata), living up to their local name ‘drain fish’. We took a few scoops for the display. Next we found a gathering of adult rivulus (Aneblepsoides hartii). These darted away quickly once we shone our light on them, but we managed to capture a handful.
By now the water in the ditch was brown with sediment, so we were blindly sweeping our net through it, feeling certain that the fish must be in there somewhere. Finally we noticed that the eel-like fish had wriggled upstream and was quite visible just a few metres away in the clearer water. With a little coordination we succeeded in securing our zangee, which was a nice size of around 30cm (they can reach 1.5m).
We released our finds into their display aquaria to settle in overnight, and went to bed feeling very pleased with ourselves.
The next day we had just enough time to finish adding the posters to the display and making some last-minute adjustments to the lighting before coachloads of school children began to arrive. My job was to guide them around the fish display, answering their questions and filling their heads with interesting facts.
Many were amazed to hear that all of these species were found in Trinidadian rivers – not from other countries, and not from the sea. None were aware that the cutlass fish generates an electric current for navigation and communication in swampy waters, and most had assumed that the long slithery zangee was a snake, rather than a fish. I was very happy to be able to show them a live specimen of this legendary species in particular.