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The Barombi Mbo Sponge Eater - Pungu maclareni
by Troy Veltrop

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The Way of the Dodo?

Extinction: "To go the way of the dodo," as they say. Fighting extinction is the woeful plight of too many of our beloved cichlids. A quandary that can, more often than not, be attributed to the species **** sapiens and our unsustainable use of natural resources, before it can be attributed to natural causes.

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Lake Barombi Mbo, Cameroon. Google Earth

One tiny crater lake, Barombi Mbo, in Western Cameroon is home to eleven species of cichlids that mankind has put in this dilemma. Eleven! All of them are endemic to this lake. There is also a great deal of other aquatic life that is endemic to the lake, ranging from freshwater sponges to a mudfish named Clarias maclareni. The only place in the world where these species are found in the wild is in this lake, Barombi Mbo, and it is at risk along with its inhabitants. Conservation of the lake is, of course, paramount, but you are the cichlids' only chance at survival if the conservation efforts at the lake should fail. Since there are not a great deal of conservation efforts underway at the lake, and the situation will likely worsen before it gets better, the cichlids need you desperately.

Eleven Species of Cichlids. So What?

You may muse. "Aren't there places like Lake Victoria with far more species in peril where we should focus our efforts?" the conservation aware hobbyist may ask. "The cichlids of that lake and other regions are certainly at risk also." Ah, but you see, it is in its small size where the treasure lies for evolutionary biologists.

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Pungu maclareni

Small Lake, Huge Treasure

At the young age of about one million years old, Lake Barombi Mbo has a total surface area of 415 hectares (1,025 acres) and is 111 first 40 meters (131 ft) contain enough oxygen to support the cichlids. Although the largest of the crater lakes in Cameroon, it isreally a small lake. Allow me to put its size into perspective. Lake Malawi, for example, has a surface area of 29,600 square kilometers (18,393 square miles), Lake Tanganyika is 32,900 square kilometers (20,443 square miles) in surface area, Lake Victoria consumes 68,800 square kilometers (42,750 square miles), and the state of Texas is a whopping 678,354 square kilometers (421,510 square miles). By converting Lake Barombi Mbo's surface area of 415 hectares to equal units of measure, you will find it has a surface area of only a little over four square kilometers (2.5 miles).

Although only a mere drop in the bucket in size comparison, Lake Barombi Mbo offers two things that no other lake in the world, save possibly Lake Bermin, offers: the highest endemic species per hectare ratio known to biologists, and one of the few examples where such a small area has supported the evolution of new species by means of sympatric speciation (two or more descendant species produced under isolation within the same area, with no geographical barriers). It is thought that a riverine species, Sarotherodon galilaeus, colonized the lake and evolved into the eleven cichlid species found there today. In the field of evolutionary biology, the lake is considered as important as the Galapagos Islands. Now those four square kilometers and eleven species of cichlids are not looking so small and insignificant, are they?

The Cichlids of Barombi Mbo

By now, you are surely asking yourself, "Who are these cichlids and what can I do to help?" I applaud you for asking. So, without further ado, I present to you the cichlids of Barombi Mbo.

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