Keeping fish is never cheap in Hong
Kong. The main reason is the extraordinary high property price in Hong
Kong. At its peak, a footprint of a 4 ft tank would translate into the
price of a compact car. However, benefited by the Hong Kongs free
trade policy, a wide variety of fresh and salt-water aquarium fishes are
available in the market at reasonable price. Most fishes are imported
although some of them, mainly goldfish, are locally bred. Wholesales and
retails of aquarium fish are highly concentrated in an area called "Mong
Kok" where you could find some 30 aquarium shops in one street. Stock
includes red arowana, merodontotus tigrinus, stingrays, Lates Niloticus,
marine fishes, live coral, and of course, African cichlids.
African cichlids were introduced to
Hong Kong around 1980. The choice at that time was limited and the price
was high especially for Frontosa. People were eager to breed these profitable
species. However, I seldom heard of people breeding Frontosas successfully.
Hobbyists were tough to use under gravel filter with power head and fine
coral sand. Blood worm, live shrimp, flake and pellets are common staple
food for African cichlids. Burundi was the only Frontosa variety available
at that time. The population of African Cichlids keepers grew steadily
and peaked in mid 1990s. At present, there is still a stable population
of dedicated African cichlid hobbyists in Hong Kong.
specialist shops emerged shortly after the introduction of African cichlids
to Hong Kong. The number grew in tandem with the population of African
cichlids keepers. These shops come and go, but my favorite shop (I call
the owner "Fat Keung") has a strong foothold in the market.
In my opinion, Fat Keungs shop carries the best quality stock. It
has the newest species and the most varieties. Yet the prices are the
cheapest on the market. Most important of all, Fat Kuengs shop brings
in a trade-back system. Customers can sell their African cichlids back
to the shop at 70% of the purchased price. Hobbyists are tempted to swap
their fishes at home with other new or better specimens. In essence, it
creates an extra demand on African Cichlids, which is beyond the limitation
of aquarium size. Other shops have adopted this practice as well.
Fish clubs are not common in Hong
Kong. Fat Keungs shop, with so many hobbyists hanging around, virtually
forms a fish club by itself. People crowed in a 100 sq ft shop (with twenty
four 2ft tanks and two 6 ft tanks), exchanging fishes and sharing their
experience. As Fat Keung and some hobbyists like horse-betting, in those
horse-racing days, the shop simply turns into a war room.
I started keeping fish when I was ten.
Under the cover of "Feng Shui", I have been fortunate enough
to secure a fish tank at home so far, even though the tank size has never
exceeded 4 ft ("Feng Shui" is an ancient Chinese art/study of
natural environment. It tells people the best placement of an object in
the home or location for a home to bring good health and fortune. A fish
tanks is quite often considered by Chinese people to bring wealth
and suppress bad luck if it properly placed at home.)
I bought my first Frontosa in Arizona
when I visited there in 1988. I brought this 2 inch juvenile Burundi back
to Hong Kong and started my first African cichlid tank. As other people
did, I used an under gravel filter with power heads and 2 inches of coral
sand as substrate. Boulders, clay pots were put to the tank to provide
shelters. The filter used was an overhead wet filter. I must confess that
the Burundi Front was not my favorite fish as the other tankmates, peacock
and electric blue. They were far more attractive than this small Frontosa.
After a year, I went to Singapore for
work where I started a bigger tank at 6 feet long. African cichlids were
less popular there and the choice was far more limited. For some reason,
maybe the water, the color of the fishes was less brilliant. Hence, I
needed to bring over the African cichlids from Hong Kong, but this time
Shortly after my return to Hong Kong
in 1993, I started an African Cichlid tank again. This time, my passion
Frontosa grew a lot. They appeared to me like a successful marriage between
a beauty and beast. The fish looks so fierce but yet so gentle the way
it carries its body. It acts like a glorious emperor patrolling its territory,
parading its sovereignty. In addition, each Front seems to have its unique
appearance and character. I have all sorts of excuses to buy one Frontosa
after another. My first wild caught Frontosa was brought in 1993. They
were two 4 inch wild caught Zambian blues. Their condition was not very
desirable. One of them died few days later, however the other grew up
and turned out to be my most favorite "Front". The Zambian blue
had bright blue fins and luxurious blue color over the head and shoulder.
My Zambian blues photo was later printed on the letterhead of Fat
Keungs shop. I considered it was the biggest acknowledgement to
My first wild caught Zaire blue was
brought six months after the Zambian blues. It was 5 in. long and cost
me more than USD 230. It was nearly doubled the price of the Zambian blue.
However, I still thought that it was worth the money. The Front was simply
breath taking. I could hardy image how intense the blue or I should call
it violet could be. You could only see black and violet bars. Unfortunately,
the Zaire blue died two days later. It did not discourage me. Since then,
I had brought all together more than 20 Zaire blue in two years
time. I fed mostly krill and pellets to my Fronts. Bloodworms were fed
occasionally as a desert.
However, my favorite Zambian blue lost
its appetite and color gradually. I did not know why and nobody could
give me advice. It helped somewhat when I fed it with live bloodworms,
shrimp and fish. In the later stages the fish was even not interested
in brine shrimp. I eventually sold off the Zambian blue and other Fronts
in 1995 when I switched to Marine fishes.
In last February, I went into a Chinese
restaurant in Germany; there was a fish tank. My attention was immediately
arrested by a dominant male Frontosa there. It stirred up my hidden passion
for Fronts again. Back to Hong Kong; I went through all the video on my
fishes in the past ten years. I found that I kept cycling my tank with
goldfish, Japanese koi, African cichlids, marine fishes and Amazon exotics.
Among these fishes, African cichlids were kept for most of the time and
most of the video were on Fronts. I decided to come back again. I went
to the Fat Keungs shop. Fortunately, he was still running the business.
The shop was still crowded with hobbyists. The population of African cichlids
keepers had not thinned out. To my pleasant surprise, various new Front
varieties were imported under different trade name Mpimbwe blue,
Ikola, Samazi blue and Kasanga blue. I asked Fat Keung about tank setup,
he told me that I was the only customer who used under an gravel filter.
I decided to give up under gravel filter this time, as it was quite difficult
My current set up uses a 800 gal/hr
overhead vacuum filter, a thin layer of coral sand, a heater set to 77
degrees F, battery back up dual output air pump and a 54 W lamp. I feed
krill, frozen bloodworm and African cichlid pellets. To suppress aggression,
I overstock the tank. I put to my 50 gallon tank one 4 in. and one 5 in.
Mpimbwe blue, four 5 in. and four 1 ½ in. Zaire blue, three 3 in. Samazi
blue, one 5 in. Ikola, one 5 in. Kasanga blue and one 4 in. Burundi. They
are all male or at least appear like males. Tankmates include four O.
Ventralis, some small Malawians and lot of sucker catfishes to clean up
algae and left overs. The density is startling, but even more startling
is that it is only half of that of other hobbyists. Just like the others,
I overfeed too. To tackle the exceptionally high bioload problem, I do
frequent water change. I change 50% of the water at least every week.
African cichlid salt and buffers are added after every water change. Of
course, it is too early to judge if the Fronts could grow up in good conditions
this way but so far, they are doing pretty good.
The Front varieties
In late 1980s, there was limited
choice of Front varieties. Burundi and Zambian were the only choices.
Wild caught Zambian blues were first introduced to Hong Kong in early
1990s, followed shortly by Zaire blue. These new front varieties
changed peoples perception of Fronts. A back and white world suddenly
painted with colors. New varieties were being imported subsequently under
new trade names such as Mpimbwe, Samazi blue, Ikola and Kasanga blue.
Fronts have always been under high
demand especially for handsome specimens. Hobbyists sought after Fronts
with a big hump, and a short and tall body. Wild caught Fronts were preferred,
as they tended to have better profile and color of which captive-bred
specimens could hardy attend. Inter-trade among hobbyists was quite common.
Overstocking was popular in Hong Kong. Instead of keeping a colony of
same Front variety of similar size, hobbyists tended to put different
varieties of various sizes in a tank. Hyper-aggressive Fronts were often
traded away to avoid disaster. As the average water temperature in Hong
Kong is high, which could reach 86 degrees F. in summer, the Fronts would
grow at an amazing speed if they were well fed with high protein food.
To tackle heavy bioload problems, heavy duty filtration systems are widely
Now, the most sought after Front variety
is Samazi blue. Samazi blue has a short body with excellent black and
while contrast. It has nice blue to violet color on its head, shoulder
and fins. The body is the roundest among all the Front varieties. The
second most sought after variety is wild caught Zaire blue. The reason
is simply the color. Zaire blue has the bluest color among all other varieties.
On the other hand, Zaire blues are quite often bad tempered. I would avoid
putting a Zaire blue as the dominant Front in my tank. Second tier Fronts
include Kasanga blue, Ikola, Zambian blue and Mpimbwe blue. Kasanga blue
and Ikola share a unique body profile. The body is tall and the head is
edged. Ikola has a blue-to-violet face while Kasanga blue tends to be
more pastel in color. Zambian blue has a luxurious metallic blue color
outlining each scale on its head and the upper part of the body. The fins
have a brilliant blue color as well. Mpimbwe blue has a proportionally
big head and chest. Its profile and color stand on its own. Adults tend
to be dark in color which makes it look like a black beauty. The captive-bred
Mpimbwe blue is an exception. They are equally attractive as the wild
caught. Burundi and Kigoma Fronts belong to the third tier. If someone
asks me who is the most fierce fighter, I would nominate both of them.
Of course, they have their own attractiveness. Burundi has the most prominent
head among all others. It has the most primitive appearance as well. As
regards color, some Burundi do display nice blue on the face, body and
fins. Kigoma, besides having one more stripe, has a beautiful black cheek
Of course, different people have different
preferences. But when it comes to fish selection, good black and white
contrast (even under stress) is elementary. Personally, my dreamed Front
should have a Kigomas cheek, Burundis hump, Kasangas
head, Mpimbwes chest, Samazi blues white, Zaire blues
color and Zambians scale. Even more ideal, the Front should have
a pleasant character, great appetite, productive, self-control, fast growing...etc,
Where and how much
African cichlids, mainly Pseudotropheus,
were first imported from South East Asia. Fat Keung's shop is the first
petshop which imported African cichlids from the Western world. To date,
African cichlids are imported from Germany, Holland, Belgium and to a
lesser extent, France. For some reason, African cichlids imported from
Taiwan do not gain much respect from serious breeders. African Cichlids
have been imported from the States before. However, due to the long flights
(24 hours in total), the death on arrival rate is high. It is the biggest
deterrent factor. The price of Frontosa has never come down. The following
price table indicates the retail price of Front varieties in Hong Kong:
||UNIT PRICE (US$)
Frontosas are a magnificent gift from nature.
I always have feared that Lake Tanganyika could dry up, its water could
be contaminated by industry, fish could be over-harvested by fisherman,
or predators would be introduced to the lake just as Lake Victoria. I
hope all these situations will never happen. Our next generation should
have the right to appreciate the beauty of this fish just as what we are
doing today! □