Ken, Paretroplus kieneri. Photo by Sonia Guinane.
There are seven species of fish in the Paretroplus genus (dami, kieneri, maculatus, maromandia, menarambo, petiti, polyactis). four of which are on the highly-endangered list and includes Paretroplus kieneri. I was lucky enough to obtain a single specimen of this fish during a recent visit to Holland and Germany last November and bring 'him' safely back to Sussex. I travelled over to Europe with my good friend Graham Ash, who has been there before and had often said in conversation that the selection of fish available, especially cichlids, was excellent. When the trip was suggested I was only too delighted to have the opportunity to go. Unfortunately the Aquatic dealer in Holland only had the one Kieneri available, but being the eternal optimist, I am very hopeful that I will encounter more of these fish in the not too distant future.
From the very limited information that is written about Cichlids from Madagascar, I have discovered that the Paretroplus genus is the largest, with kieneri being the smallest, reaching a TL of 5 inches or 13 cms, if you happen to be metric. In body-shape, they are very similar to the Etroplus species that occur in the Indian sub-continent and are obviously closely related. The species that are still remaining are to be found in the north of Madagascar, in both fresh and brackish water lakes and to a lesser degree rivers. With the destruction of the natural habitat in the country, apparently some of them are near to extinction, which was the main reason why I have taken such an interest in Madagascan Cichlids.
My single Paretroplus kieneri was housed on his own in a small tank at the Dutch Aquatic dealer (Holland Cichlids), next-door to a much larger tank, full of Paratilapia polleni which is another endangered cichlid from Madagascar. I already own a breeding pair of this most attractive small predatory species, so it was a pleasure to see so many available for sale. Hopefully this is an example of how the ordinary aquarist can help conserve rare fish in the hobby, even if the fish in it's natural environment is severely threatened.
The kieneri caught my eye immediately, not because he was particularly brightly coloured, but just for the sheer reason of being another species of Madagascan fish that I had never encountered before. There was not a price shown on the tank, but I was determined that I was going to buy the fish, regardless of price. Holland Cichlids had row upon row of tanks, containing many, many beautiful cichlids from all over the world, but as Graham and I were only there for a very short time, it was really impossible to study each tank in detail.
I asked the proprietor, whether the fish in question was for sale and if so, what was the asking price. He seemed a little reluctant to impart with this information, but I soon learned that he could be mine if I was willing to part with 120 Guilders, which indeed, I was. I handed over £40 sterling as this delightful place was more than happy to take several European currencies, as well as Dutch. This will become common practice when the Euro takes off. I think that Bert was rather bemused that this strange English woman was willing to pay that amount for a single fish, but when I also learnt from him that the fish had originally cost him more than 100 US Dollars, I was certain that I had a bargain.
The fish was carefully bagged in preparation for his journey back to the UK as Graham and I were booked on the afternoon ferry from Ostend so had quite a long journey ahead of us. On the journey home I was trying to decide, where would be the best place to house the fish when I eventually got him back. The obvious place was our 1.80x060x0.60 m (6'x2'x2') tank, which already contained three Paratilapia polleni, three Paratheraps fenestratus, six juvenile Amphilophus labiatus and three juvenile Herichthys labridens. All these fish are fairly aggressive when adult, but as they were still juveniles, I was hopeful that the kieneri would be able to cope, especially as I was also adding three Astatheros nourissati at the same time. If necessary, we have a couple of small tanks where bullied fish or fry can be housed if and when there is a problem in any of the larger tanks. I know from experience that while I may think that certain fish will be compatible with others, the fish themselves often have different ideas. It is a great pity that cichlids themselves do not read the books written about them.
When I reached home, Dave was delighted with the fish that I had brought back, especially the Madagascan who we decided to christen Ken. (I know for a fact that I am not the only fish-keeper to give their fish names!). Dave agreed that we should house Ken and the A. nourissati in the largest of our tanks with the tank-mates already mentioned. If Ken had a problem coping, with the Central Americans and other Madagascans, I decided that he might fit in better with some of my South Americans. As I knew nothing of the temperament of these fish, this was virgin territory to me as to how these fish behave in the aquarium. There was absolutely nothing written about this in any of the fish books that I own.
Paretroplus kieneri guarding eggs. Fish and Photo by Sonia Guinane.
Ken is about 13 cm (5" TL) and is very deep bodied, similar to a Severum in shape. I have learnt that juvenile Paretroplus species shoal in the wild, usually about 5 or 6 in number. They have a tendency to sift in a similar fashion to the Geophagus eartheaters from South America. Ken certainly does this quite often, but not so frequently as the Satanoperca jurupari and S. pappaterra that I also own. I think that is possible that they are the Madagascan equivalent of Eartheaters in that country. His colouration is a basic orange colour, with grey smudges, which lighten or darken with mood. This reminded Dave of the orange - blotch (Marmalade Cat) species of Metriaclima zebra found in Lake Malawi.
At first, Ken seemed to be faring well in the 1.80 m (6') tank, apart from the odd split fin or tail, which always occurs when adding new cichlids to an established community. The first night home I offered Ken and the other residents of the tank frozen bloodworm, which is always popular and I was delighted to see that Ken was tucking in with the rest of the fish, including the A. nourissati. None of them seemed to be harassing the new arrivals too much so I was hopeful that everything would be OK. The next morning everything in the tank was still status quo, so I remained fairly confident. At feeding time that Saturday, bloodworm was offered yet again and all the fish including the new arrivals were feeding. I spent that evening in the fish-room with Dave, (unfortunately, we do not yet have a fish house) as I wanted to watch the behaviour of my new Madagascan, with a view to writing about him, as I have already written articles about the other Madagascan species, Paratilapia polleni and Paratilapia bleekeri, that I have kept. At this moment in time, I still have my breeding pair of Polleni and an odd female, but I no longer have the P. bleekeri.
For the next few days I continued to watch the tank at every available opportunity and soon became aware that the Paretroplus kieneri seemed to be losing his confidence. He was very wary of the male Paratilapia polleni, who persistently chased him, if he strayed into his area by mistake. He was beginning to show a lot of damage on his fins and tail, which was caused mainly by three juvenile Paratheraps fenestratus and the male Paratilapia polleni. The Paretroplus kieneri seemed to be reluctant to eat also and when he did so would only eat frozen bloodworm or earthworms. I was rather concerned that he would not even try any of the dry food that was offered and readily eaten by the other tank inhabitants. I was so worried by the fact that he was not eating that I phoned Bert at Holland Cichlids to ask what he had been fed there. The answer was a type of dry food of which I had never heard and was unable to obtain in this country. The only solution was to continue to offer bloodworm, mysis shrimp and live river shrimp. Earthworms had to be put on hold, as mid November is not an ideal time to be digging in the garden! .
It was becoming apparent that the fish would have to be moved as he was just not coping and I did not want to lose him. Dave transferred him to a (1 m) 4' tank, which contained a pair of Satanoperca pappaterra and another pair of Satanoperca jurapari, with some Anomalochromis thomasi as dither fish. All these species are extremely peaceful, so I hoped that the Paretroplus kieneri would be more compatible with these fish than he had been in the other tank. As time went on he seemed a lot happier and his damaged fin and tail repaired quickly, Feeding continued to be a problem, as he would still only accept frozen food. I tried holding a Doromin at the surface of the water, but he seemed to prefer my finger and I can confirm that he has very sharp teeth. He was offered scalded lettuce, but that was received with the same contempt as the dry food, so I carry on with the mysis and bloodworm. He was developing quite an endearing personality similar to an Oscar, which I had also witnessed with the P. bleekeri, and I am of the opinion that Madagascan Cichlids are highly intelligent.
Paretroplus kieneri fry in the aquarium. Fish and Photo by Sonia Guinane.
For a while all was quiet in the tank housing Ken, but then history repeated itself, but this time the shoe was on the other foot. On this occasion it was the Paretroplus kieneri that had become the bully and was taking great delight in chasing the S. pappaterra and S. jurupari, both of which are very peaceful fish. Yet again it was necessary to move this problem fish, who was definitely a Jekyll and Hyde in character. This time Ken was moved to an empty 0.75 m (3') tank, with just a juvenile Nandopsis tetracanthus for company. Dave and I were fast coming to the conclusion that he was one of the most difficult fish to place that we had encountered, but I did not give up hope completely. His feeding habits did not change either, so I continued to feed the obligatory bloodworm and mysis shrimp.
Following the British Cichlid Association Auction in March of this year, there was some space available in one of our 1.80 m (6') tanks, so I decided to try putting the Kieneri in with the trio of Paratilapia polleni and some juvenile Central Americans. He has been in the tank for about ten minutes, when World War Three threatened yet again. He underwent an intense colour transformation as he came face to face with the male Paratilapia polleni, with his body turning a very light orange and his head was completely black, from his operculum forward. I have not seen this colouration on the fish on any other occasions, although he sometimes goes completely light orange, but most of the time he retains the 'marmalade cat' appearance. He attacked the male Paratilapia polleni and any other fish that made the mistake of getting in the way, so yet again Ken was put back in solitary. His future was the subject of several conversations between Dave and I, but I could not bring myself to part with him, (Ken, not Dave!). I have the offer of a good home for him at the Bolton Museum Aquarium, where the curator, Tim Henshaw, has a magnificent display tank of Madagascan Cichlids, if he really does become a problem in the future.
I have tried, without success, to locate some more Paretroplus kieneri within Europe, but I have discovered that there are some of these fish available in Florida. I am now awaiting details of the cost involved for the transportation of fish from North America and I am sure that it will not be cheap. At this moment in time Ken is living in a 1.50 m (5') tank with the South American cichlids already mentioned and I am pleased to be able report that his behaviour is now impeccable towards his tank mates. He will now eat ALL food that is offered to him and a pleasure to own as he is such a great character. I am optimistic about the future for this highly endangered Cichlid from Madagascar.
In conclusion, I would like to say that it is obvious that Cichlids from Madagascar should be given as much tank space as possible to be able to breed them successfully. It is good to hear that they are being bred in captivity, so perhaps they will continue to thrive in the hobby as more aquarists are beginning to take more of an interest in these endangered fish.