JAKARTA: Gingerly removing a black cloth from his aquarium, Erfin Hongdoyo beams as he unveils one of his most treasured possessions — a large red, and very rare, arowana fish.
The ethnic Chinese Indonesian is proud owner of a 18-inch "scleropages formosus", a freshwater fish native to the wilds of Indonesian Borneo which is nearing extinction. While the so-called "super red" arowana is disappearing in nature, demand for the undulating fish is booming in the tanks of Asia's rich.
And although breeding is only permitted in three countries — Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore — the arowana's growing popularity as a symbol of new-found wealth could be what saves it from extinction. "I think it looks like a dragon," says Hongdoyo, adding he would not part with the fish for less than 30-40 million rupiah ($3,300-4,400). That's nowhere near the top of the price scale as speculation has seen some arowanas change hands for as much as $55,000.
A recent fair dedicated to arowanas in Indonesia's capital ended with sales equivalent to $20,000 for one fish and $22,100 for another, said Stephen Suryaatmadja, founder and chairman of the Indonesian Arowana Club.
The fair had a special room with around 50 "super red" contestants, kept under 24-hour guard and with a total estimated value of more than $1 million.
Breeders say demand for arowanas, which appear on the World Conservation Union's (IUCN) red list of threatened species, is on the rise in China, Japan, Taiwan and India. Its popularity is all about looks as the Chinese believe it resembles a dragon and symbolises good health, luck, prosperity, family harmony and protection against evil.
Others believe the arowana has supernatural powers, or that it is a symbol of wealth and refinement, much like a work of art. It's not just Chinese who are shelling out huge sums for the fish.
The arowana's appeal has led to the establishment of specialised fish farms, some of which are publicly listed and run by powerful businessmen. "There is more and more competition," says Jap Khiat Bun, director of Jakarta's CV Maju Aquarium, adding that there are now more than 200 breeders in Pontianak, on Borneo island, alone.
Arowana are difficult to breed and breeders must register with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Each captive-bred fish must be sold with an accompanying certificate showing it to be at least a second generation captive fish. Each is also implanted with a microchip so it can be identified all times.
View more random threads: