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God's fishes: religion, culture and freshwater fish conservation in India

  • Nishikant Gupta (a1), Arun Kanagavel (a2), Parineeta Dandekar (a3), Neelesh Dahanukar (a4), Kuppusamy Sivakumar (a5), Vinod B. Mathur (a6) and Rajeev Raghavan (a2)...

Indigenous communities worldwide have long relied on their environment for survival. Religious and customary beliefs that foster community conservation have not only bound these communities to ecosystems but also assisted in the conservation of species. We provide an example of how religion fosters the conservation of freshwater fishes in India. Since ancient times rural communities in India have revered fish species as symbols of divine power, and offered them protection in pools associated with temples. Such voluntary, informal institutions and arrangements continue to help conserve several freshwater fish species that are otherwise subjected to anthropogenic pressure in open-access areas. However, religious beliefs in India are waning as a result of increased urbanization, modernization of societies and disintegration of rural communities, and the sustainability of existing temple and community fish sanctuaries is questionable. We discuss the role of temple sanctuaries as an informal conservation strategy for freshwater fishes, and discuss the knowledge and policy gaps that need to be addressed for ensuring their future.

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