|Oliver Lucanus (Right) in the Amazon basin.|
Oliver Lucanus, from Germany (Now living in Montreal, Canada), well known worldwide cichlid collector of South American and West African fish, he has travelled extensively to fish habitats around the globe and it is a well regarded international speaker at fish oriented conventions. Oliver owns a fish, amphibians and reptiles importing business at his home town.
How did you get involved in Fish?
Our place in Germany was too small for any real pets, so fish were the obvious choice, along with some amphibians.
What got you involved in importing fish, what is it that you enjoy about it?
When I moved to Canada no fish I was interested in was available here, so it started as a way to get fish I wanted for myself, then I was selling fish to help pay for the freight. Then it went really out of control and my company had over 1000 tanks, but I have since learned that smaller is better and I have around 100 tanks now.
What people or events in the fish world have had an influence on you and why?
Any of the early fish guys. Imagine what it must have been like to go to the Amazon some 60 years ago and try to bring back live discus in a milk can. I was always fascinated with the early explorers like Humboldt, Stanley and Livingstone. As far as fish people go I was always fascinated by Pierre Brichard who was exporting fish from the Congo and Lake Tanganyika back when it was still more than dangerous. Not that much has changed.
In your opinion, what is the state of the International hobby and associations. What do you see as the future?
I see it as very grim. Until recently I was often the youngest person in my talks. There are few members in their 20s and very few kids that really like fish. The Brooklyn aquarium society has a program where they go in schools and talk fish, a very intelligent idea, although I wish the manufacturers would help more, it would be in their best interest.
The reptile people are much smarter in that sense. Reptiles are cool and on TV, they have Steve Irwin and all the other guys that talk herps on TV and even in the movies. So kids want herps because it is cool. 15 years ago it was guys only with lots of tattoos, now the shows are full of families, and lots of very young people keep reptiles. Maybe we should take some initiative and get tables at their shows, but unlike the herp manufacturers the aquarium manufacturers are not hobbyists themselves anymore. If you go to a reptile show you will see what a healthy hobby should look like. But I am not sure what needs to be done, perhaps if the manufacturers helped it would be easier, until then we have to hope for some positive fish media coverage.
I think Finding Nemo set us back 20 years, now kids want clown fish and all the stores are stuck trying to convince new parents that they can not get a setup for the clown fish with less than $300. Talk to anyone that owns a store and you will hear sad stories.... But imagine that Nemo was a Corydoras napoensis in a dentists office in Belem, Brazil and he had to swim back to the Rio Napo in Peru, getting chased by Serrasalmus, Alligator snapping turtles, Brachyplatystoma and kingfishers. His friends would have been Ad the Astronotus, Woody the pleco, Pete the pike cichlid, Lee the Hepapterus eel and Louise the Laetacara (editor note; Perhaps Oliver the discus?). Just as cool, just as exciting a journey and we would have 300,000 new households with aquariums right now.
A local company is coming out with a whole new product line based on natural habitats, a real step in the right direction, and maybe people will try to keep fish a bit more in an natural setting. I helped work on the idea as have some others who know more about fish than I do, so maybe that will be a bit of a change. If the manufacturers get more involved, and perhaps some of the public aquariums and zoos, things will change.
Could you mention some areas of deep concern about endangered cichlids, do they have a future in your view?
I see especially Madagascar as pretty grim. Having seen the destruction in the country I think it is pretty safe to say that the only way something there can be protected is if there are lemurs and forest in the area at this point. The problem with many cichlid habitats is that the forest is already cut and there is nothing left to protect in the area above the surface.
When I was in Cameroon this year I was also amazed at the destruction, but I do not think that much can be done, especially since western governments are telling us that we have bigger concerns than the environment at the moment.
Of the countries you have visited looking for fish, what is your favorite one and why?
I do not really have a favourite, but in the last few years I have been more concerned with finding clear water for diving, so travels of late are somewhat aimed at getting to places with clear enough water. If it were safer I would like to spend more time in Colombia, as there are interesting poison frogs there as well and lots of new fish. But it will have to wait.
I was impressed by your underwater film on discus breeding (ACA Denver 2004), a documental gem that breaks decades of speculation about their breeding habits, do you see a decline in discus populations in the Amazon drainage?
No, discus have a huge distribution and the catching methods are so primitive that it is not a concern they are over fished. There are problems in some areas because the forest is cut down, and the farmers even pull the roots out of the remaining habitats to prevent cattle from getting injured, but it is a small problem, compared to the destruction of the Amazon which threatens everything. Unfortunately, if the US administration starts looking for oil in it's own national parks I am not sure if anyone in Brazil will listen to them when they put pressure to stop the destruction of the rainforest. I think that the environment and global warming does not figure enough in our decisions in how we choose our governments.
West Africa seems to have been a neglected area of our hobby orientations, wonderful cichlids from that area have recently been made available. Do you see many new cichlids coming into the hobby from West Africa?
I think so, the last while there has been a lot more new fish imported from the region, and there is exciting news. There are two new Pelvicachromis described last year and there will be at least two or three more in the next while, in our hobby it is the sort of thing that creates some excitement and I think that these fish are among the best suited aquarium fish over all.
Could you tell us about the cichlids of Barombi mbo, what is your involvement with them?
I was at the lake at the beginning of the year, and really was fascinated by the lake. It is only 10 minutes from the city of Kumba with over 100,000 people. But inside the crater there is still forest and only a small village. The lake is clear and the local people are very kind. You have to love a culture that has a local name for each cichlid species! Where else do you get that? The fishermen are real experts because of it and when you say that you are looking for "Mongo" (local name of Stomatepia mongo), they can actually tell you why it is difficult to get the fish. The fish are hardy and a bit of a challenge to breed, so I am surprised that they are not more popular in the US, since so many people have Rift Lake cichlids. Lake Bermin is even more interesting, with lots of bright little red Tilapia species that all evolved from the same ancestor, it is really evolution in action. But the walk to the lake is 35 km and there was no time on this trip.
That cover of Today's Fishkeeper magazine of you holding a machine gun in Colombia (that Derek Lambert was so proudly showing off) is interesting. What happened?
It was on our Uaru fernandezyepezi trip, the upper reaches of the Orinoco and Atabapo are not very safe, so you see a lot of weapons there, including on our boat. The border region has some problems and some of our fish come from areas that are not always peaceful. The Colombian army post on the Atabapo has been attacked on a regular basis, and there is some tension in the region. When I was in Maracaibo I was amazed that almost every man there carries a handgun, even in the bars. But overall I think that Central and South America is safer than some places as home.
Is your family involved in your fish passion?
My wife has started to photograph fish as well, and is beginning to join me on some trips. If we have kids they will have surgery to people to breathe under water. I do not have an extended family and for a while before getting married I had none, so your friends become your family - and mine all keep fish. Either I have given them a tank or they are fish people like me that have become friends. All others think I am crazy, but I am sure most people with more than 2 aquariums know all about that.
Where are your planning to do your next trip? What are you hoping to find there?
México, I want to get some photos of cichlids under water and it is easy to get to and a cheap place to do some SCUBA diving in the ocean.... Early next year I want to go to Brazil and perhaps West Africa, but these things are always decided last minute.
What do you see in your long term future? Tell us about your plans.
I will do anything to make people think of fish, and I am not really the right person to make kids excited about fish, but the hobby has all the aspects. If people realized where some of the fish they see in tanks come from they would perhaps see the adventure and mystique, which is what makes the herps so cool. We need to convey that to the kids, and to people interested in fish as a whole.
I would like to do a book on fish habitats, or maybe even a book on traveling for fish, maybe to write down some of the funny moments. There is nothing better than to see the world and funny things happen. When I was in the Cross River this year I asked the fishermen for three days that I wanted to catch stingrays and they always replied that the fish does not exist there, but when I finally drew a picture they all yelled out : "Oh, you want to catch the cover pot!". One of many funny moments on the trip I did not photograph or film, but then again those are usually the best.