Wolfgang Staeck, from Berlin, Germany, has been involved with freshwater fish for most of his life, with the most part of this time dedicated to cichlids. A biology professor, Dr. Staeck is well known for his several scientific descriptions of cichlids as well as his several books, illustrated with dazzling pictures authored by him, another thing that has made Dr. Staeck famous. Wolfgang Staeck has visited cichlid habitats in Africa, Central American and South America, which has brought him a deep knowledge of the fish he talks about. The interview took place In Oslo during April 1997.
Dr. Staeck, thank you very much for this interview, I would like first you to tell me how did you got involved in the aquarium hobby?
It all started very early, in the years when I still was a schoolboy, I had my first aquarium and I started with the indigenous fish of Germany, I caught them in the neighborhood and kept them in small aquariums.
How does you interest in cichlids has evolved over the years?
I am particularly interested in cichlids because they have a very interesting behavior. When it was my time to choose a university career I decided to study biology. One of my main points of interest was behavior and Ethology, that means the study of behavior, and in this regard cichlids are very interesting animals and even the famous professor Konrad Lorentz started with cichlids, and they were his favorite objects of study. He made very interesting observations, obtained by watching cichlids in aquarium.
I know you have visited Lake Tanganyika since a long time ago in several occasions. How does you trips have been changing and what changes have you seen in the lake in all this time you have been visiting?
Of course it has become much easier to go to the lake as 25 years ago it was really a kind of expedition. Because infrastructure was very bad and nowadays there are several people who export fishes out of the lake from all the surrounding countries. Some of these exporters provide luggage or at least a place to stay at the lake.
I don't think there are changes with regards to the fish population or the ecological conditions. What has changed mainly is the infrastructure, which means things like airplanes going to the lake and new roads that make it easier to get there. Of course with the roads the living conditions of the people that live by the lake has changed as well. I think that is all what I can think about that has changed.
I have always been very much impressed by your photographs, several underwater in Lake Tanganyika. I would like to know what is your basic equipment for taking your underwater slides and if there is a favorite one which one is that?
Well I have to confess that I have only had I think three times the possibility to use complete diving equipment, because most of the times there was nothing like that at the lake. Most of my underwater pictures where only taken with goggles, flippers and the basic equipment. That means that sometimes it was really awkward, as you can imagine. If you go down with the sand the water becomes murky. In addition to this you have that most Tanganyika cichlids are very tiny fish, most of them are only between five to ten centimeters, and that means you have to get very close.
I have two different cameras, I use a Nikonos, although it has the problem that it is difficult to estimate the exact distance because it is not a reflex camera and with close distances it is hard to put the fish on focus. I also have another camera formatted 6x6 which has a case for underwater use, and also it has a flash.
About my favorite picture, it is a hard question but I think one of my favorite pictures is a pair of Neolamprologus sixfasciatus guarding the fry, that is really a good picture.
You have made extensive travelling to collect and observe fish to habitats in America and Africa, is there a place from which you guard a special memory?
For what Africa is concerned the Island of Likoma in lake Malawi is one of my favorite places because the water is so clear, it is far from the lake's coast and Malawi fish are very colorful. With regards to America I like very much the clear water of localities in México for instance Laguna Medialuna in San Luis Potosí. In South America the Rio Negro, where the water is very clear, because of the brown coloration you can only see as far as three meters but it is really amazing if you dive into the brown dark waters. Those are the three localities that come to my mind when I think of attractive places.
What are the cichlids with which you are working now and what is your present setup?
Well my place of residence is Berlin, it is a big city, we don't live in a house of our own, we live in an apartment and therefore space is limited, and that is one of the reasons why I am concentrating on dwarf cichlids. At the moment I have a community tank with cichlids from Lake Tanganyika, mainly from the genus Neolamprologus and Julidochromis. In recent years I have been several times to South America and got very much involved in the genus Apistogramma, which has very colorful species and I am fascinated to watch them guarding the young.
You are very successful aquarist and fish breeder and I would like to know what is the species that has been the most challenging for you to breed?
It is a difficult question. I have the problem that our tap water in Berlin is rather hard about 15 degrees hardness and pH about 7.5 and therefore I have problems breeding some South American species, black water species for instance. Challenging was an Apistogramma sp. from Venezuela, a species with a very limited distribution that is only known from one river, the "Morichal largo" near the mouth of the Orinoco system. I visited the area and had the chance of taking four fish home and to breed them was really a challenge, it took some time but in the end I was successful and I even gave away some of the fry. The fish in question is Apistogramma Guttata Antonio, Kullander & Lasso, 1990.
For the last question I would like to know if you have any new book planned for the future?
Actually at the moment I have no plans for a new book, of course I have some plans but I haven' t make them very concrete. Recently I concentrated on updating old editions of my books and I am making them once again attractive because some of them were written ten years ago or even twenty years ago.
Thank you very much Wolfgang.
© Copyright 1997 Juan Miguel Artigas Azas, all rights reserved
Artigas Azas, Juan Miguel. (October 15, 1997). "Interview with: Wolfgang Staeck, Apr-97". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on January 18, 2019, from: https://www.cichlidae.com/article.php?id=277.