Whipsnade Zoo’s aquatic conservation

Whipsnade Zoo is a conservation zoo which means behind the scenes we’re working to protect species, restore habitats and inspire change for wildlife. 

Our Whipsnade aquarium is the first public aquarium in the UK dedicated to conserving threatened and extinct-in-the-wild freshwater fish. These include species like the La Palma pupfish and Turkish killifish. 

As one of the few places in the world working with freshwater fish our aquarium was set up to prevent species like these from becoming extinct. Incredibly, 50% of the world’s fish species live in just 1% of the world’s water – freshwater habitats like lakes and rivers.

Freshwater fish are found all over the world in all sorts of habitats including those you might be familiar with – like ancient lakes and fast flowing streams – as well as some more unusual places like underwater caves, flooded forests and even puddles. Sadly freshwater fish are often overlooked by traditional conservation programmes, but we know they are amazing and important animals and they're in trouble. Pollution, damming and water drainage have all destroyed their natural habitats an invasive species often introduced by humans have had a devastating impact on wild populations.

Native wildlife conservation at the Zoo

La Palma pupfish in an aquarium at Whipsnade Zoo
Turkish killifish, Aphanius transgrediens

How is Whipsnade saving species?

Our conservation work aims to uncover the secret lives of these fish and then find ways to save them from extinction. Behind the scenes our keepers are working with the critically endangered Acigol killifish, endemic to Lake Acigol in south west Turkey and teetering on the brink of extinction. It is one of the top 100 most endangered species in the world, under incredible pressure from invasive species, water abstraction, mining and pollution. 

Here at Whipsnade Zoo, we are fully committed to breeding and supporting some of the most threatened freshwater species in the world. 

Oryx reintroductions

Saving the rare Lake Acigol killifish

Whipsnade is one of only a handful of facilities in the world to hold the species, but as well as breeding them in the aquarium in carefully managed conditions, the aquarium’s team leader Alex Cliffe has been conducting important conservation field work in Turkey.

This includes conducting the most comprehensive survey ever done, covering more than 20 locations across Lake Acigol, where he found evidence of small, restricted populations in a limited area of the lake – but also found evidence of some of the invasive mosquitofish that have outcompeted the killifish in other areas. 

Developing elephant conservation tech

Conservation is only possible with collaboration and we’ve been talking with the Turkish government to discuss translocation plans for the killifish to help support the breeding and potential reintroduction of them. 

Alex said: “This species is an extremely high priority and is likely to be  classified as extinct-in-the-wild in the next few years – but with focused conservation attention we can claw it back.”

At the moment the Lake Acigol killifish is being bred behind-the-scenes at the aquarium but we are aiming to have them in the on-show breeding area soon!

Find out more about our wildlife conservation work as part of ZSL. 

Conservation at ZSL

Creating a new future for an ancient species

Developing a route for recovery for Chinese giant salamanders

Together with our partners, we completed the largest ever wildlife survey in Chinese conservation history, and discovered just 24 giant salamanders, all of which were likely escapees from farms.

UK species now classified as ‘Critically Endangered’

Restoring European eels

European eels once thrived in London’s rivers but the number of young joining the adult populations has dropped dramatically since the 1980s.

Under threat from fishing and habitat degradation

Protecting angel sharks

We’re working at the cutting edge of conservation to protect angel sharks and create practical routes to their recovery.