Twenty-eight years ago, the golden skiffia vanished from the wild. Today, it’s back.

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This sunshine-colored freshwater fish is smaller than a thumb. The species has been kept alive in captivity. But now, in keeping with Mexico’s Day of the Dead holiday a few days ago, conservationists are returning the fish to its natural habitat of the Teuchitlán River in Mexico.

Related: Nearly 1/3 of freshwater fish face extinction

“The Day of the Dead is a traditional Mexican celebration, when it is believed that people’s deceased ancestors return to the land of the living for one night, to talk and spend time with their families,” said Omar Domínguez-Domínguez, a professor and researcher from the Michoacán University of Mexico and leader of the golden skiffia reintroduction. “Releasing the golden skiffia around this time is a metaphor for how the species has come back from the dead to return to its home, not for one night, but forever.”

Like thousands of other freshwater fish species, the golden skiffia was pushed to the brink of extinction by human impacts. Pollution, dam construction, water extraction and invasive species have fouled the fish’s happy home.

Michoacán University of Mexico, Goodeid Working Group, Chester Zoo, Re:wild and SHOAL collaborated to return the golden skiffia to its native Teuchitlán River in Jalisco, Mexico. On November 4, the team released about 1,200 of the fish raised in a captive breeding program.

This is the latest project from Fish Ark Mexico, which has a facility at Michoacán University. The conservation project focuses on 41 highly threatened freshwater fish species. Six years ago, Fish Ark Mexico successfully reintroduced the tequila splitfin into the Teuchitlán River. That population is now thriving. Conservationists hope to have a similar success with the golden skiffia.

“Releasing this species back into the wild is a light of hope for this wonderful family of fishes — the goodeids — and for the conservation of freshwater fish more generally,” Domínguez-Domínguez said. “Knowing that universities, zoos and aquarists can come together to fix some of what has been destroyed and return to nature some of what has been lost is an amazing thing. The reintroduction will benefit not only the natural ecosystem but, because of the habitat restoration work that has already occurred, the communities that live near the river as well.”

Via Shoal Conservation

Lead image via Chester Zoo