Retired professor Vishwanath continues his journey on fish identification

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Imphal: Retired Manipur University professor Waikhom Vishwanath of Imphal, who was honoured by naming a fish genus derived from his name as “Waikhomia Hira”, advises the scientists and students working in the Eastern Himalayan region to concentrate on discovering of new species for correct identification.

The Eastern Himalayan region covers whole of Northeast India, parts of Nepal, Myanmar and certain parts of Yunan province of China.

A team of scientists from Maharashtra and Kerala discovered the new species of freshwater fish in the Western Ghats and recently named it ‘Waikhomia Hira’. ‘Waikhomia’ is derived from the surname of the professor, while Hira literally is diamond.

The team from the Bombay Natural History Society, Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies, Modern College, Pune, and the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research – Pune, described the new genus and species of freshwater fish from the Western Ghats of Karnataka. The paper discussing these results was recently published in the leading international journal, Zootaxa.

The Maharaja Barb, puntius sahyadriensis, a member of the freshwater fish family Cyprinidae was described in 1953 from the Yenna River at Mahabaleshwar, and subsequently recorded from several east and west flowing rivers in the states of Maharashtra and Karnataka. An integrative taxonomic study suggested that the species is distinct from Puntius, within which it is currently included, as well as from all other members of the family Cyprinidae. A new genus name, Waikhomia has therefore been proposed to accommodate this unique species.

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“The name Waikhomia honours Professor Vishwanath Waikhom of Manipur University, one of India’s greatest living fish taxonomists, who has described over 100 species of freshwater fish, and worked tirelessly to promote the science of taxonomy and systematics in the country”, said Dr. Rajeev Raghavan, assistant professor at the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies, and a senior author on the paper.

“It is indeed an honour given to me and my team who have tried to bring fresh water taxonomy in India, I’m really grateful to them,” said the retired professor who served in the department of life sciences of Manipur University till last year.

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“The new discovery from the Western Ghats is a new genus, not a species… I could not discover a genus till now even though I have discovered more than 100 species.”
From the early 80’s till his retirement, he was doing research on Taxonomy of fresh water fish, not only in Manipur but also for the whole of Northeast and Eastern Himalayan region.

Even though retired, the professor is taking up a project to compile a book, “Fresh water species of the eastern Himalayas”, about the fishes of the Eastern Himalayan region, which, he says is the hot spot for fresh water diversity where so many new species are available and where the scientists have never visited.

The three years project is taken up under Basic Science Research Fellowship, UGC. “My objective is to bring all the scattered literature which I and my young colleagues have contributed from Eastern Himalayas in one book,” Waikhom said. He said in some parts of the region including the interior parts of Manipur, it is expected that many types of fishes are awaiting discovery. “Unless we know biodiversity of this region it would not be possible to go for conservation,” he said.

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He said Taxonomy has been ignored for quite some time. He formed a team of scientists including his students and scientists from different parts of the country and organised workshops on fish taxonomy which has come up to the international standard. “And now our work has been recognised abroad and in different parts of the country,” the professor said.

For any study on biology it is very essential that a species is correctly identified. A species should have only one name and that name should be referred to that particular animal or plant, he said.

He was honoured with several awards including the national award EK Janaki Ammal National Award for Animal Taxonomy which he received on World Environment Day celebration in New Delhi on 5th June 2015.

Though, known for his contribution in the world of Life Sciences, Professor Waikhom Vishwanath loves to sing. He composes his own songs and occasionally performs on stage.

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