Tuesday, January 2, 2007

LAKE MALAWI WILDLIFE

Lake Malawi has traditionally provided a major food source to the residents of Malawi as it is rich in fish, the most famous of which are the chambo, consisting of anyone of 4 species of the cichlid genus Nyasalapia, as well as the kampango, a large catfish (Bagrus meridionalis). Lake Malawi is famous for its cichlids, popular in the aquarium trade. Malawi cichlids are divided into two basic groups. These are loosely referred to as the haplochromines and the tilapiines. Within this first group (Haplochrominae) there are two subgroups. The first consists of the open water and sand dwelling species with males usually sporting bright colors while the females show a silvery coloration with irregular black bars or various other markings. The second subgroup is known locally and popularly as mbuna, which means rockdweller. Mbuna are smaller, generally vegetarian, and both sexes are often quite colorful, though many species are dimorphic. The second group, the tilapiines, consists of the only substrate-spawning species in the lake (Tilapia rendalli), as well as the 4 species of chambo (Nyasalapia). Maylandia and Labidochromis are popular cichlids in the international aquarium scene. Cichlids are an important export for Malawi, but wild populations are increasingly threatened by overfishing and localized pollution. Other wildlife resident in the lake includes crocodiles, and a large population of fish eagles which feed off the fish population.
The lake also supports populations of snails some of which carry bilharzia. For many years this was strenuously denied by the government, which feared it would deter tourism in the area, but since the fall of Hastings Banda, the presence of bilharzia in the lake has been more widely acknowledged. (However, due to the overfishing of snail eating cichlids in the lake, this has caused what little bilharzia did exist to greatly increase to the point of being a hazard to bathers in the south east portion of the lake.)

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