s I answered the first phone call
of the day, I was blissfully unaware of the drama being
played out at the other end of the line. The caller’s
voice, that of a lady, sounded at least an octave higher
than normal and contained a hint of hysteria. The stress
vibes were so strong that they were coming to me through
the handset. I could hear a man’s voice making ineffective
calming noises in the background.
Eventually, after several minutes,
I began to get the gist of the problem. The small catfish
which they had inherited with their secondhand 6 foot
tank was now over eighteen inches long. It could hardly
turn around, as the tank was only eighteen inches wide.
It had developed the rather frightening habit of charging
from one end of its aquarium to the other in a mad panic
and ramming its head against the end pane of glass. Apparently,
every few minutes there was a loud thwacking sound as
the fish hit the glass, and its poor owner was terrified
that it was either going to hurt itself badly, or break
the glass and flood the living room floor, or both!
I was told that it already had
a large bulbous lump on the end of its snout, caused by
After a few questions,
the identity of the catfish was established – a
member of the Pangasius genus,
I was not in the least surprised by this revelation –
I’m afraid I’ve heard it many times before,
but I was very concerned with the next bit of information
that my in-depth questioning produced. As if it wasn’t
bad enough that there was a large psychotic catfish needing
a new home, I identified it as a Paroon Shark, Pangasius
sanitwongsei, one of the
five largest species of catfish in the world, with a maximum
size of over nine feet.
Its owners were very fond of it,
and had tried to re-home it to caring homes many times
but no one would take it. They had asked all the fish
shops in their area – they had telephoned various
zoos and Sea-Life Centres, but to no avail. They were
desperate – could we help them?
I was reminded of an incident in
which I was involved a couple of months ago whilst browsing
in a well known West London aquatic store. I noticed two
aquariums, each containing a species of Asian catfish
which I knew to be completely unsuitable for sale to the
general public. Both species were members of the Pangasiidae
family, Pangasius hypophthalmus,
and Pangasius sanitwongsei.
They were small specimens, 2 to 3 inches long, and were
for sale for less than £7.00 each.
can attain a length of 52 inches (130cm), whilst P.
sanitwongsei can easily be included in a
short list of some of the world’s largest catfish,
at a maximum length of 120 inches (300cm).There was no
mention on either aquarium of the huge size which these
fish can attain.
In order to clarify the situation,
and to ascertain whether or not the shop staff were aware
of the complications that can arise when these potentially
massive species outgrow their owners’ aquariums,
I approached an assistant and asked him to accompany me
to the relevant tanks. Once there, I indicated the two
species in question, and asked him how large each would
grow, and if they were suitable for a 24” community
aquarium. He confidently assured me that the P. hypophthalmus
would grow to 8 – 9 inches, and was therefore fine
for my community tank, but that the P. sanitwongsei would
grow to 18 – 20 inches, and would need slightly
suggested to the manager that the staff should better
acquaint themselves with the physical characteristics
and requirements of the species on sale.
Nowadays, some conscientious shops
have a ‘No Big Fish’ policy, but there are
many shops that are still happy to sell juveniles of species
that soon grow far too huge for their tanks. Sometimes,
it’s the fault of the customer for not asking “how
big will it grow?”, but in the above case,
I did ask all the right questions, and I was given all
the wrong answers!
Of all the catfish that outgrow
their aquariums, Pangasius species
are the ones most often requiring re-homing to larger
quarters, ranking more numerous than the Amazonian Red-tailed
Catfish, Phractocephalus hemioliopterus,
at a ratio of 2 to 1.
What can be done to help these
poor unfortunate fish whose only fault is that they grow
too large for a small community tank? We need to convince
retailers that it is not good business practice to sell
these future tank-busters in the first instance, if only
out of concern for the ultimate fate of the poor creatures.
We also need to teach customers who insist on purchasing
these tank-busting species that owning a pet is a huge
responsibility and that it is encumbent upon potential
buyers to acquaint themselves, before the purchase, with
the maximum size that their desired pet could reach.
Think of it this way - if the animal
in question was warm-blooded, cuddly and covered in fur
or feathers, it would be a criminal offence to house it
in a cage so small that it couldn’t turn round!
The RSPCA and the press would be
involved – there would be a court case, a hefty
fine and an order banning the guilty party from keeping
such animals in the future. However, when the poor victim
is cold-blooded, there are those who deem it acceptable.
Obviously, some people think that
only warm-blooded creatures suffer stress or pain –
how wrong they are!
For and on behalf of The Southern Counties Catfish Rescue
Images courtesy & copyright