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A Coveted Central African Holy Grail Revealed - Congochromis sabinae Lamboj 2005
by Randall Kohn

Reprinted with the permission of Cichlid News magazine, vol. 15(3) July 2006, and the author.

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Congochromis species are small generally colorful, somewhat rheophilic (current-loving) dwarf cichlids that are found primarily in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and, in some instances, Congo (Brazzaville), the Central African Republic, and Gabon. In the hobby, Congochromis species benefit from a small number of devotees who can be quite fanatical about these interesting little fish, so much so that rumor has it that a twelve-step self-help program, Nanoholics Anonymous, is in the works (the editor of this publication is surely a prime candidate for the program!). By far, the most commonly encountered species is Nanochromis parilus, which retailers often mislabel as N. nudiceps.

Water Organism Fin Fish Underwater

Congochromis sabinae male in the aquarium

Fin Natural environment Underwater Water Fish

Congochromis sabinae female in the aquarium

In the 1960's, Pierre Brichard exported a strikingly colored, reddish Congochromis species from the Democratic Republic of the Congo that was labeled N. dimidiatus. Unfortunately, some time in the 1970's, this legendary reddish Congochromis species disappeared from the hobby and subsequently became a highly coveted form. Hans-Joachim Richter's beautiful photos of Brichard's putative C. dimidiatus are immortalized in Linke & Staeck's editions of Afrikanische Cichliden I-Buntbarsche aus Westafrika, the English language edition of which was published in 1994. Although the same photos, depicting the same fish, are utilized in both the 1994 English and the more recent 2002 German language editions of Linke & Staeck's book, the fish depicted in the former are remarkably redder than those depicted in the latter. The remarkable difference between the photos published in the two editions seems to suggest that the coloration of Mr. Richter's original photos was enhanced after the fact in the earlier 1994 edition and depict an unnaturally colored Congochromis species. Juxtaposing many of the other photos that the two editions share in common, however, additional changes in color are obviously apparent. Our Mary Bailey suggests that, in all fairness, another possible explanation for the color discrepancies between the photos in the two editions is that they are an unintentional function of the printing process.

As suspected by a number of Congochromis aficionados, the Brichard form depicted in Linke & Staeck's books is not C. dimidiatus at all, but rather an undescribed species. Using specimens collected in 1996 from Congo (Brazzaville) that correspond to older preserved specimens from Congo (Brazzaville) and Gabon deposited in museum collections, Dr. Anton Lamboj scientifically described this member of the Congochromis dimidiatus species-group last year. The honor of the "true" C. dimidiatus designation goes to the forms formally known in the hobby as Nanochromis. sp. "Bandundu," N. sp. "Kapou," N. sp. "Zaire," N. sp. "Zaire Red," and N. sp. "Leza" or "Lesias" (Lamboj, 2004). Given the type locality cited by Pellegrin, who first described the species in 1900, of Banghi (Ubanghi basin) in the Central African Republic, it appears that N. sp. "Kapou" is the form originally described as Pelmatochromis dimidiatus Pellegrin 1900, which is valid today as Congochromis dimidiatus (Pellegrin, 1900).

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