Recently I confirmed the rediscovery of Allochromis in the Lake Victoria region. We found it in Lake Nawampassa, S.B. Wandera of the Ugandan Fisheries Research Institute was the first to report it. A second specimen was collected by our student, Audrey Armoudlian, who worked with S.B. and the rest of the team on our most recent expedition to the lake. This is the famed scale-eater, thought endemic to Lake Victoria alone. It is believed to be extinct everywhere else, though it formerly occurred over much of Lake Victoria, and based on this record, probably Lake Kyoga as well. We also discovered that there is another species of piscivore in Lake Nawampassa, which appears in gross body plan to conform to taxa placed by Greenwood in Harpagochromis. Thus Nawampassa contains the piscivorous morphotypes Harpagochromis, Prognathochromis (Prognathochromis), Prognathochromis (Tridontochromis) and Pyxichromis. The subgenus/ecomorph Tridontochromis has also been missing in action. Other taxa in the lake include new species of Haplochromis, several paedophages representing both subgenera of Lipochromis, and many others, some very brilliantly colored.
In light of these discoveries, I feel that Lake Nawampassa and the other Kyoga satellite lakes (some of which contain bits and pieces of this fauna) represent one of the highest freshwater conservation priorities in the world. Anything that we can, as a community, do to assist Uganda in preserving this priceless, "lost world" refugium of Lake Victoria region fishes would be worth our effort.
So ..... It would be really helpful if we could place tracers on the sources of material being shipped to Europe and North America from this lake. Established collectors in the region who had been collecting and shipping under tight ethical guidelines, are no longer in business. Who are the European collectors and dealers now? I am told that these fishes are selling for up to 50 US dollars a piece. That is a mark-up beyond belief. It is my personal opinion that the Lake Kyoga haplochromine fauna should be listed as CITES Appendix II, and that trade should be sharply restricted in such a way that brood stock are captive-bred in Uganda, and the profits of the sale of these beautiful aquarium fishes be returned as much as possible to the region of origin, for application to the conservation of these species in perpetuity. I invite comment on this proposal. I also hope to avoid having to advocate such a draconian measure as this, it is evidence that the aquarium fish community is incapable of regulating itself in the interest of conservation. That should be a source of shame.
We must locate the European collectors. Somebody, and we don't know who, appears to be really trashing Lake Nawampassa. These fishes, some like Allochromis now limited to about one one thousandth of a percent of their former range, are gravely endangered. Overcollection is not the only threat, but it is certainly a major one. You can help change this.
Many of you have asked what you can do for conservation of aquarium fishes. This is something you can do. Help me now. Identify everyone in the chain of hands from Uganda to the home aquariums of Europe and North America. I know the people lakeside and we do not want them hurt by this. It is right and good that they should collect and sell these fishes as part of a well-orchestrated, revenue-generating conservation scheme. But that is not the way things are working at present. My colleagues in Uganda, and The Commissioner of Fisheries in Uganda need this information, or there is little that they can do directly to put things in order. Heiko Bleher, anybody else who knows collectors in this region, the dealers in Europe, the shippers: HELP NOW! Please. Uganda, the world, we are going to lose these animals and this time, it will be the fault of everyone who knew better, who knew they should have intervened when there was time. If we do this right, something very good can come out of it, not only in terms of extinction forestalled for the remnants of a rich and valuable fauna, but also in terms of an aquarium fish cottage industry that can serve as a model for the conservation of endangered freshwater species.
Comment and information are invited, but mostly the latter, please.
Contact Les Kaufman Homepages http://bio.bu.edu/~lesk/
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