from Lake Malawi and Tanganyika
by Ad Konings
Just the words “East African Rift Lake” convey sufficient magic to attract the attention of those that have never even heard of cichlids. Imagine a body of water as large as the state of Maryland, filled with crystal clear water — fresh water — and teeming with millions of gaudily-colored fishes. Just like a coral reef without the salt water, the currents, and the tides. And Africa has two such lakes, both about the same size and both with a unique set of fishes, almost all of them found only in that particular lake. A part of Lake Malawi has been declared a World Heritage Site, the world’s first freshwater park. The fauna of Lake Tanganyika — with a depth of 1470 m the second deepest in the world — is thought to be older than six million years, and perhaps as old as 20 million. The lake may have been the cradle of most cichlids found today in East Africa.
One of the most exciting groups of fishes, the cichlids, is dominant in both lakes Malawi and Tanganyika, with each lake harboring a staggering number of endemic species whose ranges are restricted not only to the lake in question but often also to a particular section of each lake. Some of the species occur only around tiny rocky reefs, with population densities as low as a few hundred individuals, while others are found lake-wide with millions caught every year by local fishermen. Since the 19th century, when Lake Malawi was discovered by Livingstone and Lake Tanganyika by Burton and Speke, scientists have been intrigued by the fact that so many species could originate in a single body of water. Leaving aside the intense scientific interest in African cichlids, these colorful creatures are also extremely popular with aquarists who are able to keep and breed many of them with ease.
Each cichlid has an interesting story to tell; this book shows a collection
of cichlid fishes that were caught in the act — the act of their behavior,
the act of displaying their splendor — all demonstrating that they are
celebrated segments of the rich tapestry of life in the magical lakes of