At the FOTAS/CARES meeting (Nov. 4-6, 2011) in San Antonio, Texas, I was dumbfounded and excited by Melanie Stiassnyís presentation of her work on the Congo River. She discussed mainly the fish fauna of the Lower Congo, a stretch of a little more than 200 km but in which she found already 332 different species of fish of which more than 90 are endemic to this part of the mighty Congo! A staggering number if you compare that with other rivers in Africa. It also drove home the message that we still know so little about the biodiversity of vast areas of Africa. And that at a time when governments, with their eyes on the money, make broad-ranging decisions on the future of these areas without knowing what is really at stake. Of course, the quality of life and the sustainability of the areaís biodiversity rarely play a role in such decision making. This was also evident in Paul Loiselleís presentation on the state of fish diversity on a global scale and how it suffers from industrialization and burgeoning human encroachment on freshwater habitats.
While I presented the latest developments of the Anti-Netting Devices in Lake Malawi National Park, Rick Borstein of the Greater Chicago Cichlid Association, asked what the total sum is that is needed to protect the Maleri Islands and parts of the Cape Maclear area with ANDs. I didnít have the answer ready, but with the price of the new ANDs at about $50 each and estimating that about 2000 of these are needed to cover the shorelines of the various islands, I offered the sum of $100,000. This is far from an exorbitant amount, and afterwards Lawrence Kent of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, suggested that I should be able to write a grant application and submit it to one of the big environmental organizations, because $100,000 is considered small change by his and many other organizations. I thought about his suggestion, but I have other factors to contemplate in our quest to save the Malawi cichlids. First of all, Iím 100% sure that we aquarists can come up with this amount and that we are in time to protect the majority of the Malawi species that are endemic to park waters. Secondly, imagine the immense satisfaction by all who have participated in the program ten years from now when all is set and done, and when we are enjoying the fruits of our efforts. Just consider the Babes In The Cichlid Hobby; Caroline Estes, Pam Chin, and Pam Marsh, who have worked very hard at every convention, traveling on their own dime, auctioning fish paraphernalia that they have begged, stolen (hope not), or borrowed from their friends, and entertaining us as well. In the last four years they were able, besides all the other needed causes they work for, to donate $6,500 to the fund! Imagine their satisfaction when they see that all is well in the Lake Malawi National Park. I donít want to steal their and your happiness by a possible ďtake overĒ of big money. The placing of the ANDs is a slow process and Iím confident that we can keep pace with donations and spending costs.
A propos the placing of the ANDs, I received great news from Leon du Plessis, who has now been established (with his wife Ingrid) as manager of the lodge on Nankoma Island, that he was able to drill two holes in a rock underwater with a single SCUBA tank with the pneumatic drills that I had sent last summer. See a little video clip here.
He now also has the right accommodation for those of you who want to learn to SCUBA dive or who want to become master diver and do so in Lake Malawi! Click here to visit his website WAMWAI ADVENTURES for more information. Those in the latter group are also involved in helping Leon to place the ANDs. In August 2011 Penn State transferred about $6000 from our fund to South Africa to purchase the first batch of stainless steel (good for 200 ANDs) which has arrived in Malawi. Dimitri is now preparing the new design ANDs which will soon be available to be employed in the lake.
Critics of CARES and of any other captive breeding programs uphold the notion that a speciesí genetic diversity is quickly lost because of inbreeding and can never replace the lost diversity of the original population, and also that reintroduction of captive-raised fish into the original habitat has never been achieved successfully. Well, the last statement is incorrect as successful fish reintroductions have been completed in Europe as well as in the US. Iím not aware of any such efforts with cichlids but I donít see any problem in that. The fact that wild caught cichlids can quickly adapt to the artificial environment of aquaria, the reverse should pose no problem either. We have, unfortunately, proof of the cichlidsí ability to introduction in Lake Malawi (and also in Lake Tanganyika) where over the years cichlids have been introduced at various places by collectors of ornamental fish.