Meeting with an Exporter
Mr. Malembe pulled up a dozen fish from one of the tubs, exclaiming “Phenacogrammus!” the genus of the famous Congo tetra. They were gorgeous, displaying blue, rose, and yellow colors. These grow to about 3 or 4 inches and look great when kept in groups. I couldn’t tell if these specimens were the classic and widely available P. interruptus or one of the other, undescribed species (sometimes called “Congo I” and “Congo II”). “There are many races, depending on the location of their collection,” said Mr. Malembe, plunging into another tub and pulling up more Congo tetras.
These were probably P. deheyni, a smaller and more slender tetra with a golden back, a red dot at the base of its dorsal fin, and yellow and iridescent blue on its flanks.
Mr. Malembe next turned to his catfish tubs, pointing to one filled with about 100 upside-down catfish (S. nigriventris) that were, true to their name, swimming upside down. He then scooped out an S.
notata with a large dot on its silvery side, an elongated and dorsally compressed S. brichardi (yellowish and about 6 inches), and a handsomely patterned vermiculated synodontis (S. schoutedeni).
I asked if he had the big-nosed upside-down catfish (S. contracta). A friend of mine in Germany had asked me to get him some. “I can get you lots of those,” said Mr. Malembe, “but it’ easier to catch them during the dry season when the water levels are lower – I can get you anything!”
He then ran inside his storeroom and came out with a bucket containing a srnall electric catfish (Malapterurus microstoma), one of only two species of such catfish found worldwide. This one was only about 5 inches long, pale in color with black spots and a black band at the base of its tail fin. “Touch this one and you will feel pain, then weep!” he explained in a delighted voice. Electric catfish discharge electricity in short bursts to stun prey and for defense, with the strength of the discharge proportional to the fish’s size.
Mr. Malembe continued to show us his fish, and my taxi driver, Francois Bokanga, helped me move many of them into a photo tank for pictures. Francois seemed to grow more interested in the fish as the day unfolded, and by late afternoon, he became adept at using a hand net to coax any species into looking at my camera.
Among the fish we examined were a red three-spot barb (Barbus candens), an African knife fish (Xenomystus nigri), a blue-spangled jewel fish (Hemichromis sp.), and a third species of Distichodus (D. affinis). We also photographed Boulenger’s featherfin characin (Bryconaethtops boulengeri), a small barracuda.shaped fish with black dot-dash marks, and another species of climbing perch (Microctenopoma congicum), a small gray fish with muddy white bars.
Puffers and Other Oddballs
Mr. Malembe showed us his giant puffers (Tetraodon mbu). This species sports a yellow and black pattern and can grow big – up to 2 feet long! Like most puffers, T. mbu has a cute, hamster-like face.
He also showed us walking catfish (Clarias sp.), two types of lungfish (Protopterus aethiopicus aethiopicus and P. dolloi), and an albino eel-like catfish (Channallabes apus). Channallabes squirm like snakes and are said to adapt well to aquarium life, although they can grow to 16 inches. They have small heads and eyes and rosy cheeks. Lastly, Mr. Malembe showed us around his storeroom, where he has everything needed to ship fish to dealers in Europe, Japan, and the US. To find out more, you can check out Black Upside Down Catfish.