The arowana needs no in­tro­duc­tion, but there is much to be learnt about the dragon of fishes.

The Peak (Malaysia) - - Contents - TEXT KOH YUEN LIN

The arowana needs no in­tro­duc­tion, but there is much to be learnt about the dragon of fishes.

Mafia ab­duc­tion. Mur­der by poi­son­ing. Black mar­ket deals. Po­lice mo­tor­cade ac­ti­vated for a trip to town. The per­ils of be­ing a cham­pion arowana fish is not very dif­fer­ent from those that en­mesh a high-pro­file politi­cian in a coun­try in con­flict. That is how Emily Voigt de­picts it in The Dragon Be­hind the Glass, a 2016 book on the arowana trade.

With per­son­al­i­ties such as for­mer In­done­sian pres­i­dent Susilo Bam­bang Yud­hoy­ono pay­ing about USD20,000 for a fish, and re­ports of an un­named Chi­nese com­mu­nist party of­fi­cial fork­ing out USD300,000 for a prized catch, these scaled crea­tures are truly in a class of their own. And, as with any­thing that in­volves large amounts of money, there is a bit of shadi­ness sur­round­ing the trade.

De­spite its fame, the arowana does not have a long his­tory as a lux­ury or­na­men­tal fish. In fact, be­fore it came to be known as the myth­i­cal ‘dragon fish’, it was con­sid­ered a poor man’s meal in the South-East Asian coun­tries where it swims in the wild. In her book, Voigt puts forth that it might have been con­ser­va­tion efforts in the 1970s that pro­pelled the fish to promi­nence. That the slowre­pro­duc­ing species was put on the en­dan­gered list and banned from global trade cre­ated a per­cep­tion of rar­ity. This, cou­pled with the pre­his­toric fish’s ma­jes­tic good looks, piqued the in­ter­est of the rich seek­ing a new, ex­otic sta­tus sym­bol.

It is be­lieved that the arowana mar­ket came to be with de­mand for the Su­per Red, in­dige­nous to Bor­neo. While the elu­sive strain con­tin­ues to top the price charts, Alex Chang, a con­sul­tant with Qian Hu fish farm – which has been run­ning arowana breed­ing and re­search fa­cil­i­ties since 1989 – shares that hy­brids such as the al­bino sil­ver arowana are also fast gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity. “(Apart from pedi­gree), col­lec­tors look for the body shape, the bar­bels, the bril­liance of the fish, the finnage and also the swim­ming pos­ture,” he says.

In­trigued? Here are the ins and outs of keep­ing a pet arowana.

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