The Wild Side

African Rift Lake trea­sures un­der threat

Animal Scene - - CONTENTS - by Gregg Yan

They are among the most col­or­ful fresh­wa­ter fish around, their bold col­ors and ag­gres­sive be­hav­ior al­most like marine fish. Their home wa­ters have the same ph as salt­wa­ter. Even their habi­tats -- wave-pounded rocky shores, shell-lit­tered sand flats and open wa­ter pa­trolled by preda­tors -look eerily like co­ral reefs. An­i­mal Scene read­ers, meet the famed ci­ch­lids of Africa’s Great Rift Lakes. Formed mil­lions of years ago in East Africa’s Rift Val­ley (where hu­mans orig­i­nated), three of the planet’s largest lakes oc­cupy a re­gion twice the length of the Philip­pines. Lakes Vic­to­ria, Malawi, and Tan­ganyika evolved as oases of fresh­wa­ter di­ver­sity in the savanna scrubs of Africa, host­ing more ci­ch­lid species than any other place on earth. Lake Malawi alone is home to around 15 per­cent of the planet’s fresh­wa­ter fish species, nearly all of them en­demic. Well known to both aquar­ists and fish farm­ers (tilapia are im­por­tant food fish), ci­ch­lids (Sick-lids) are one of the largest fish groups. Over 1,600 species have been de­scribed, with more be­ing dis­cov­ered an­nu­ally (there could be well over 3,000 species in all). They range in size from un­der an inch to over a me­ter and are found in Africa, the Amer­i­cas, and parts of Asia. To aquar­ists, the most well­known ci­ch­lids are prob­a­bly the grace­ful striped an­gelfish of Ama­zo­nia -- but in terms of color and bold­ness, Africa’s Rift Lake ci­ch­lids reign as kings.

East Africa’s Rift Val­ley Lakes oc­cupy a re­gion roughly 3,700 kilo­me­ters long -- twice the length of the Philip­pines. They are so large that they can all be seen from space and have their own ex­ten­sive cur­rent sys­tems. From top to bot­tom are lakes Vic­to­ria, Tan­ganyika, and Malawi. Hu­mans are thought to have evolved on Ol­du­vai Gorge, to the lower right of top­most Lake Vic­to­ria. (Google Earth)

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