Okay, so every once in a while, I'll be spending a rare idle moment surfing the net, checking out fishes, clubs, forums...Google...that kind of stuff, and I'll stumble on something cool.
Like the other day, someone in passing had mentioned a fish that sort of sounded vaguely familiar, Skiffia multipunctata. I was like, "What is that fish? A Rainbowfish? No...maybe a killie of some sort...that's not it...Ahh...a LIVEBEARER! That's it. A wild livebearer! Yet, "domesticated" by a dedicated group of specialized hobbyists.
And it got me thinking...and researching. And it sort of opened up my eyes to the fact that there are dozens and dozens of wild livebearers that are out there, which most hobbyists have never even heard of, let along, never thought about. Many of them are seemingly drab relatives of our beloved Guppies, Mollies, Plates, and Swordtails. However, many of them have their own attractive charm. Fishes that, when placed into the proper conditions, can be as interesting and beautiful as anything else we keep.
This is the kind of "discovery" that makes a hardcore, lifelong fish geek really excited! I mean, a whole new world (to me) of fishes that are being kept, bred, and having endangered populations preserved- but dedicated hobbyists operating in a relatively obscure niche.
I LOVE this stuff. Upon further investigation (God, I love Google), I learned that there is a fairly extensive network of hobbyists working with these fishes. A world that many of who play in our own little hobby niches- probably never saw before. The idea of keeping wild fishes- or wild variations of fishes we've kept in the hobby forever- is not new: Killie fanciers, Rainbowfish people, cichlid lovers, and Betta lovers have been keeping wild fishes for a long, long time.
Yet, for some reason, the whole "wild" category seems to be relegated to the realm of "exotic", or "difficult", or, more recently..."forbidden." For years, there was a bit of a stigma associated with the term "wild." I'm attuned to the "forbidden" aspect of wild fishes, having spend much of the last decade in the marine aquarium industry, dealing with the regulatory realities of CITES, government restrictions on imports, fair trade in fishes, etc. In some areas ( for example, Hawai'i), environmental groups have seemingly targeted the aquarium industry as the cause of declining populations of fishes or damaged reefs, etc., when the reality is that the aquarium industry is responsible for and incredibly small fraction of the threats to wild populations, as opposed to tourism, blast fishing, yachting, logging, and other pollution-generating industries.
The aquarium hobby is the easy-to-target "low hanging fruit", with little in the way of industry lobbying, and the idea of cute little fishes scooped up out of their native waters and relegated to die in aquariums makes easy, good copy and fodder for the popular press, who have no idea whatsoever about the amazing conservation, breeding, and care efforts down by hobbyists and industry people alike worldwide. "Activists" like a gentleman in Hawaii have had a "field day" attacking the licensed (and heavily-regulated) aquarium collectors there for their allegedly "destructive practices", when in reality, his tourist boat operations spill diesel exhaust and deposit kicking, flailing sunblock-smeared tourists to snorkel, causing far more potential damage to some of the very reefs they screaming about. Their numbers and facts are not supported by hard science...yet they have a louder, more public voice than the hobby or industry, and can manipulate the media effectively. It's far easier for them to curry public favor with the drama they can create by creating sensational accusations.
So, when people outside the hobby and industry hear "wild", their first thoughts include words like "destructive", "endangered", "reckless"- when the reality is far, far different.
Yet I digress...
The coolest thing to me about the dedication to wild populations of fishes is that some of the species maintained by these hobbyists are considered extinct in the wild, and aquarium populations represent the only significant gene pool of these animals left. For example, the livebearer Zoogoneticus tequila, comes from a tiny type locality that has been "taken over" by non-native species, essentially dooming its wild existence. It has not been found in any significant numbers since 2013.
Highly dedicated hobbyists from the Goodeid Working Group and other conservation organizations are creating initiatives to reintroduce some of the populations of this fish into monitored, semi captive ponds, in the area where the species hails from. And this isn't the only such effort done by hobby groups, working in conjunction with scientists.We've seen similar efforts with Bettas, Cichlids, Killies, Rainbowfishes, and others.
Isn't this the best part of the hobby? Learning, growing- sharing...And giving back when needed? We offer the world a lot more than we might think. One of the things I like most about Tannin is that we are helping foster some awareness of a unique environment, and giving the hobby the materials, ideas, and community to help forge new directions. This, coupled with the passion, drive, and enthusiasm of hobbyists worldwide, is what keeps this hobby so fascinating and enduring.
Stay enthusiastic. Stay excited. Stay passionate.
And Stay Wet.