The Wild Side
African Rift Lake treasures under threat
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)