Interview by Rick Borstein
GCCA’S CICHLID CHATTER — MARCH 1999
Tell us about yourself... how did you get started with Cichlids?
When I was born in 1956, I didn’t have gills, yet— unfortunately as, at an age of 2, I al- most drowned in the goldfish pond of my grandma. It was not until I was twelve that I got my first aquarium. Not long after that I got more, stocked with the first Tanganyikan cichlids that were available in the Netherlands. I made all the mistakes that novice aquarists make today, but experience was built up. During my biology study, I helped out on Saturdays at Verduijn Cichlids, at that time, Europe’s best assorted cichlid shop. My first trip to Africa was to Malawi in 1980 and from then on I was hooked on “cichlids in the wild”.
In the last ten years, I have visited Lake Malawi and Tanganyika more than once a year and I am slowly developing “the cichlid picture” in my mind. Coupled with yearly trips to Mexico, I’m getting an idea how cichlids do in the natural environment. After 42 tanks in Germany, my wife allows me only two in El Paso; the first is almost 500 gallons...
You’ve been diving and observing cichlids in Africa for many years. Can you share with our members an interesting story of finding new cichlids?
For many years, I have been publishing books and articles on Malawi cichlids in German and in Germany. Some other authors in Germany don’t like that and try to outdo me. One of them, let’s call him Andreas, even tried to copy every single step I took in getting photos of Malawi cichlids. When I went for the first time to the Tanzanian part of the lake, that same person managed to go a few weeks earlier and got a boat from the same fish collector as I did. I was with Martin Geerts and Laif DeMason, who owned the boats all of us were using, was with us as well. At Manda, halfway through our trip, we chanced to meet Andreas and since our visit was a surprise for him, he couldn’t conceal a new fish he collected in the area we were supposed to go to next. In a little baby swimming pool, he had little a blue-black barred mbuna which resembled Pseudotropheus saulosi males. He refused to tell us where he found them even though the diver, who caught the fish, was on Laif’s payroll. Laif’s partner in Tanzania, Erling, agreed with Andreas, who was leaving the country in a few days, that he would take these new fish home! Laif was very angry because Andreas was using his boats and his divers and now that a new and exciting new mbuna was found, he wasn’t even able to get it. Worse, someone else was going to breed the fish and make money on the European market. Andreas and Erling left with the lake steamer to Itungi port, where Laif’s fish house was. Since Andreas wanted to visit a crater lake north of Itungi port, the two of them left for a couple of days. In the meantime, Laif took the next lake steamer —in those days there were two services a week— and steamed up north, to Itungi. In the fishhouse, he found the little mbuna and added a few big predators to the tank after he made sure that there were no females among them. Andreas, was upset —we later heard— but still took the remaining fish with him in a box to Germany. He desperately wanted someone to name this fish after him and also had preserved material. Since his voyage would take him through Malawi (shorter than flying out of Tanzania), he was faced with a very cold check-in agent at Lilongwe airport. Nobody is allowed to take live fish out of Malawi, no exceptions! Whatever he did, there was no way he could take the fish with him. Therefore he asked the driver and manager of Laif’s operation in Tanzania, Freddy, if he would take the fish back and ship them the next week with the proper documentation. Freddy agreed. Unfortunately on his way back to Tanzania, Freddy’s had car trouble and he had to stay overnight in Malawi, in the highlands (cold nights). You guessed it— the fish were dead the next morning. So, Andreas only had preserved specimens left. In the meantime, Laif, Martin, and I continued our trip and also found the fish, collected it and preserved some specimens. I thought it a good idea to quickly name this species after Laif — he had done so much for me and other hobbyists by making available Tanzanian cichlids— before someone else could publish a description naming the fish in honor of Andreas. So I did and that is the story of Pseudotropheus demasoni.