Danish Aquarium leads the way with Malagasy cichlid conservation

Reportedly extinct in the wild as recently as 2013, Ptychochromis insolitus numbers will hopefully begin to rise due to the success had at Den Blå planet. 

Having bred the closely related Ptychochromis grandidieri in good numbers at the aquarium, when asked what will happen with the captive-bred youngsters, Zookeeper of the Tropical freshwater department, Peter Peterson states, “That’s a question I often ask myself.”

“We are currently working on projects which include enthusiastic hobbyist breeders. This has not been possible in the past because of rules and law, but we are working on making this possible and are very close to a solution”. 

Genetic bottlenecking

Unfortunately for aquariums and zoos, it is very difficult to conserve larger species for extended periods of time as it is not easy to maintain effective population size or even genetic diversity.

Genetic bottlenecking occurs over just a few generations and before long a population is so far removed from wild stock that it must be considered domestic. 

Pete Liptrot of Bolton Aquarium, a pioneering body in Madagascan cichlid breeding adds; “Mate choice, microhabitat for fry rearing and generational turnover all pose obstacles which must be overcome.”

“Hopefully in the future, dedicated hobbyists might be capable of easing some of these pressures off zoos and aquariums.

“Until then, it seems In Situ conservation will be by far the most effective strategy.”

Denmark’s very own Den Blå planet is well known for its conservation and breeding of endangered freshwater species and is currently spearheading the campaign on Malagasy cichlids with an incredible portfolio of successfully bred species. 


The aquarium itself has around 60 exhibits, ranging from 100l right up to 3,700,000l, not including backstage quarantine and breeding facilities where the aquarium’s group of young Mangarahara cichlids will hopefully spawn and increase numbers in captivity. 

Until 2013, the species was comprised of only three known specimens. All male. Later in the same year, an expedition including representatives of the Zoological Society of London managed to find a total of 18 specimens hanging on in the wild.

Whilst it may seem that cichlids of Madagascar are the main focus of the aquarium, Peter told Fishkeeping News that the real aim is to help any endangered species they can and Ptychochromis just happens to be one example. 

Central American livebearers feature heavily, with Limia garnieri and Pseudoxiphophorus anzuetoi being bred in good numbers.

Localities of Xiphophorus variatus are maintained amongst other more common species. “I also prioritise at-risk localities of common fish as well as endangered subspecies”, Peter assures us.


With such large freshwater systems on display, it comes as no surprise that spawning happens even in the exhibits. Noteworthy cases include Baryancistrus sp. L142 and Baryancistrus demantoides. Peter attributes this to the natural tendencies of the tanks, such as copious amounts of live foods, algal growths and tank size. 

Den Blå’s plan for the future is to continue working towards conservation. Getting a hold of critically endangered species before it’s too late will always be a priority, but with so many species appearing and disappearing all the time, the aquarium must be prepared to change direction. 

It seems that wherever freshwater conservation is concerned, hobbyists have a vital part to play. The sheer wealth and knowledge within hobbyist circles may be crucial for the survival of certain species, not to mention the potential to spread and maintain healthy gene pools when working alongside public aquariums. 

We are already beginning to welcome in Conservancy groups who aim to utilise such relationships, with the likes of SHOAL beginning to pick up traction.

More info: Den Blå planet and Bolton Aquarium


Max Pedley

Max Pedley has kept fish all his life, but only really got involved in the hardcore side of the hobby around 5 years ago. Apistogramma and other South American dwarf cichlids really make him tick, but he also has a special passion for Wild type Bettas, West African Dwarf cichlids and all Characins. Max enjoys keeping up to date with the taxonomic side of fishkeeping.