Ivan Dibble’s Ameca Project
To protect Ameca splendens in its native habitat

Ameca splendens- Photo by J. PintAmeca splendens is the name of a little fish with a bright yellow vertical stripe on the male’s tail, popular among aquarium owners all around the world. It is found in the Teuchitlán River, not far from the famous “circular pyramids” of Teuchitlán in the West Mexico state of Jalisco. Ameca s. gives birth to its babies live, loves to eat algae and quickly became popular among fish fanciers when Ivan Dibble of the British Livebearer Association brought the fish to England and began raising and distributing it to his fellow hobbyists.

After several years, Dibble was told that the Amecas had become extinct in their native habitat, victims of the pollution of so many rivers and lakes in western Jalisco. Later, however, a small population of them was found in a spring-fed pool at a restaurant on the shores of badly polluted La Vega Lake. Around that time, Ivan Dibble had already started his Mexican Fish Ark project in Morelia, where colleagues of his were caring for endangered Mexican fish brought to them from England by Dibble. But upon learning that some Amecas could still be found in their original habitat, Ivan decided something had to be done to keep this fish from going extinct.



This is where my wife Susy and I came into the picture. We heard the curious tale of “an Englishman trying to save Mexico’s fish” from our good friend biologist José Luis Zavala. We then published an article on this unsung hero and began corresponding with Ivan Dibble via email. In February of 2008, Ivan gave us a phone call, urging us to look for a site along the Teuchitlán River where Ameca splendens might still be surviving, a site where the fish could be protected.

As a result, one day in early 2008, we walked into Balneario El Rincón, a popular recreational area and the very spot where the Teuchitlán River is born. We told the manager what we were looking for.

“Oh, sí sí, that cute little fish with the yellow stripe—we have lots of them."

Some of the natural pools at El Rincón

We took a look around and found that, sure enough, a small, shallow lake on the property had plenty of Amecas in it, but also a fair number of bathers. But the Balneario had other natural pools and one very small one, fed by a spring, looked to us like the ideal place to create a protected home for Ameca splendens.

We reported back to the manager who told us this Balneario had “an ecological orientation” and all we had to do was present our project to the Board of Directors on the second Sunday of the next month.


So, armed with handouts extolling the virtues of the humble Ameca, we turned up on the second Sunday only to be told that not enough of the Directors had appeared for a quorum. Would we mind coming back next week?

So, we waited a month and the day before the meeting, phoned up the manager…well, actually we tried to call her but neither the Balneario phone nor her cell phone happened to be working. Ah, yes, I should remind you all this is happening in rural Mexico, in case you forgot.

Biologists Sergio Cajiga and José Luis Zavala at the Balneario


“Chin!” (Argh!) we said and the next morning drove all the way to the Balneario, only to be told that the meeting had again been put off. But this time we asked a few more questions and discovered that there was a big dispute among the members of the Mesa Directiva. It seems Doña so-and-so had died and left her shares to her children and now all of them insisted they be seated at board meetings, but Señor so-and-so objected to this and…“Well,” said the manager, “It could take years before this is settled and meanwhile, no decisions can be made about anything, in fact, the only solution may be to sell the Balneario.”

Well, suddenly El Rincón no longer looked like a long-term safe place to entrust the survival of any species. “Let’s check out the rest of the river,” I suggested.



Ivan had told us the river was polluted, but we decided to walk its entire length (only about one kilometer) to see what we could see.

On June 7, 2008, we parked at the spot where the Teuchitlán River goes under the highway and pours into La Vega Lake. We had a machete along, figuring we might have to bushwhack our way along the river bank.

What a surprise it was to discover a brand-new, wide walkway along the entire length of the river! It was a combination people-bicycle-and-horse trail, pleasantly shaded and with occasional benches where one could sit and gaze upon the absolutely beautiful river.


The Walkway

Although the view was magnificent, the water quality was anything but. Effluents pour into the river from a little settlement on one side and several farmers’ fields on the other. We didn’t see a single living fish until we had walked about 870 meters upstream, within site of the Balneario, at which point, Susy leaned over the water and shouted “Ameca splendens!”

Knowing that rivers and their banks are government property, we figured this was the perfect place for a fish lab, forever safe from the wrangling of stockholders and such.



A week later we went to see the builder of the walkway, Enrique Meza, Municipal President of Teuchitlán. He drove us to the riverside, saying, “I’m going to show you an even better place to find those fish, a perfect spot...”

...Sure enough. Señor Meza took us along a rough footpath on the non-walkway side of the river to a small inlet about seven meters wide. Here we could see crystal-clear water bubbling up. “It’s a perennial warm spring,” said the President, “and look how your Ameca fish love it.”


The Spring in the River -- with a couple local kids fishing...we hope not for Amecas.

Sure enough, Ameca splendens was there in abundance, busily nibbling at the algae on the rocky bottom. I could see why this fish loves algae, as thermal springs are common all around this area and where there’s hot or warm water, there are always algae.

Enrique Meza agreed it would be easy to build a retaining wall around this spring to raise its water level above the river’s, thus keeping out pollution and, perhaps, the ubiquitous tilapia which have been introduced into every body of water we know of in Mexico.



Next followed many discussions among the Mexican fish experts. We learned that Mexican environmental laws require an impact study before any sort of animal-protection project can be started. Our resident fish expert, José Luis Zavala began said impact study, but was stricken by personal tragedy and no longer able to give the project the time it needed.

The months rolled by with no progress. It looked like Ameca s. could go extinct while all the legal niceties were being attended to. Ivan was devastated.

“Please,” he wrote, “is there any reason why we can't press ahead with the setting up of the new Ameca reserve by undertaking stage one? That’s the isolation and building up of just the spring only. I have found funding for this...”

...It occurred to us that the Teuchitlán municipality had succeeded in building a walkway and had put up bridges and benches without any great difficulty. Would they be willing to just go ahead and build the little retaining wall, which, after all, had been suggested by the Municipal President himself? Well, we phoned up Enrique Meza and he said, “Sure, why not?” So we asked for an estimate and—and suddenly Ivan was gone.

A caballero on one of the locally built bridges across the river

There you have it, the story of The Ameca Project from the beginning to where we now stand—not, I hope, the end, but at a point where we need to make an extra effort to carry on where a mightily determined man named Ivan Dibble has pointed the way.

John Pint
Guadalajara, Mexico
January 5, 2010


If you would like to assist or donate to the Ameca Project, contact the Pints (Ranchopint@hotmail.com). To donate to Fish Ark Mexico, contact Don Kenwood (donkenwood@blueyonder.co.uk) .