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Maintaining Cichlids from the Victorian Basin
by Kevin Bauman (StructureGuy)

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As aquarium hobbyists, we have likely heard some discussion of the endangered status or extinction of many species of cichlids in Lake Victoria. As a mere hobbyist, I can not presume to add to the knowledge base of what has already been published by scientists much more knowledgeable than myself. This article is intended to introduce other aquarium hobbyists to my thoughts and experiences as a Victorian Cichlid enthusiast.

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First, a little background on the Lake itself. Lake Victoria is the largest of several lakes in the Victorian basin. Lake Victoria is the source of the Nile River. Several rivers feed into Lake Victoria but only the Nile River flows outward over a waterfall at a hydroelectric generator in Uganda. The Nile River flows Northward from Lake Victoria into Lake Kyoga which is connected to Lake Nawampassa in the rainy season, then west into Lake Albert. Lake Kanyaboli, the Yala Swamp and Lake Nabugabo are smaller bodies of water very close to Lake Victoria. There are other lakes in the Victorian basin such as Lake Kivu, Lake Edward, Lake George and Lake Albert that are north of Lake Tanganyika. These lakes are collectively referred to as the Victorian satellite lakes. We generally refer to cichlids from all these lakes as "Victorians" even though some species such as Astatotilapia aeneocolor or Haplochromis limax have never lived in Lake Victoria itself.

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While the current situation in Lake Victoria is not the subject of this article, a brief history is necessary to understand the status of the Victorian cichlids in the hobby today. The Nile Perch (Lates niloticus) was introduced into Lake Victoria in the late 1950's to create a fishing industry for a population in desperate need of food and employment. This non-indigenous species existed in the lake for many years before its population exploded in the mid 1970's. Victorian cichlids were first exported around 1978. By 1980, this large piscavore had decimated many of the open water species in the lake. A commercial fishing industry was created, population increased around the lake, and many trees were cut down to smoke the harvested fish. The deforestation contributed to agricultural runoff and erosion of silts into the lake. The increasing human population dumped ever more raw sewage into the lake. The added nutrients caused a boom in algae growth and the growth of the water hyacinth. The overpopulation of the water hyacinth on the lake surface blocks the sunlight and reduces the oxygen (eutrophication) in the water by interfering with the water surface to air contact. The once clear water has become murky, making mate recognition more difficult, and it is thought that some hybridization is occurring. In the late 1980's the Lake Victoria Species Survival Program (LV SSP) was formed to preserve a few these cichlids species. There are currently 16 Victorian species being maintained at 20 zoos/aquariums throughout the United States. Since the LVSSP now essentially has multiple generations of tank raised cichlids, the hope of re-introduction into the lake is becoming much less viable. Most of the scientific community does not believe that captive bred cichlids should be reintroduced into Lake Victoria.

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