Meet the Expert: Rahul Kumar

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Rahul Kumar explains why, 25 years, on he's still fascinated by the questions posed by the fishkeeping hobby.

What got you into fishkeeping in the first place?

As a child, I caught creepy crawlies in the garden and tried to keep them as pets. Somewhere along the line, my father decided it would be safer for all concerned if I focused on creatures that would stay in one place and not wander all over the house.

So I got my first aquarium when I was five. We stocked it with livebearers and a few months later my room included some half dozen additional containers housing all the resulting fry. That was 25 years ago and I’ve kept myself in fish ever since.

Growing up in India I was never far from water and, as the hobby was not well represented there, most of my early fishkeeping focused on what I collected locally, along with bread and butter aquarium fish you’d find everywhere.

In the past ten years or so, I’ve got my hands on fish from around the world and the kinds I’ve raised have increased exponentially. I tend to focus on fish that can be coaxed to reproduce in an aquarium, so I keep very few growing larger than 20cm/ 8”.

What's the most difficult species you have bred?

The most unusual fish is probably Crenuchus spilurus, a tetra that spawns like a cichlid. The male seeks out a cave, entices a female to lay eggs there and then guards them and resulting fry till they’re free swimming.

This fish also ranks highly in my difficulty stakes, because I’ve never been able to successfully raise free swimming fry. I’ve had multiple pairs spawn at different times, so I’m doing something right, but  lost the fry each time — so I’m doing something wrong as well!

Figuring out what I’m doing wrong and getting right is one big reason why the hobby continues to fascinate me.

What fish are you keeping at the moment?

I prefer fish suited to my local tapwater, so I’ve gone through phases depending on where I’ve lived. Right now my water is very soft and has a neutral pH, so my tanks house Apistogramma, Pelvicachromis, Hemichromis, severums, Discus, angefish, Geophagus, bettas, gouramis and the odd tetra.

I’m also trying to figure out how to get some local fish to spawn in aquaria. These include Puntius denisonii, Danio dangila, Rasbora daniconius and Laubuca laubuca.

Do you have a favourite fish?

They’re all fascinating in different ways. If I had to choose, though, it’d have to be the common krib: lovely fish, small, colourful and undemanding, very easily spawned. It’s close to ideal for novices and yet exhibits enough complex behavioural traits to keep the dedicated happy.

What other hobbies do you have?

Teach a bit, read a lot, cook and eat. Travel when I can afford it and find someone to look after the fish.

What's your favourite part of the world in terms of fish?

West Africa, because of the sheer variety of fish there. It has pretty much every hobby niche covered, except for loaches.

What's your worst aquatic-related experience?

Heater malfunction in a set-up housing Tanganyikan cichlids. I came home to a very expensive fish soup featuring Julidochromis dickfeldi, Telmatochromis vittatus, a very large pair of Altolamprologus calvus “inkfin” and Altolamprologus compressiceps.

Who is your biggest fishkeeping hero?

A lot of hobbyists and ichthyologists around the world who’ve been very patient and generous with their time, knowledge and fish. They’re all heroes to me.

One is Rosario LaCorte and if you see a fish with lacortei in the scientific name, it probably was named after him. He’s been in the hobby for decades and some of the fish he currently maintains are descended from fish he first spawned when most of us weren’t even born. I’d love to look back 30 years from now and say I can trace the lineage of fish x in this tank back to 2010!

What's your biggest aquatic-related dream?

I’d love to have a fish room with several hundred aquaria and the resources to maintain them. Isn’t this every aquarist’s dream?