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Seized at border, endangered Asian fish gets Aquarium of Niagara exhibit and a new friend

Seized at border, endangered Asian fish gets Aquarium of Niagara exhibit and a new friend

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According to National Geographic, the arowana is regarded as the world's most expensive aquarium fish. An official of the Chinese Communist Party is rumored to have paid $300,000 for one in 2009.

Prized in Chinese culture, it's also known as the "dragon fish" or the "lucky fish."

And now, one is back on display in Niagara Falls, after the fish, named Bartholomew by the staff of the Aquarium of Niagara, spent four years in an off-site holding tank because it had outgrown the tank in which it was being shown.

Photo: Rare Fish Hickey

Bartholomew, the 18-year-old Asian arowana seized from a vehicle at the Rainbow Bridge in December 2002, seen in the "Dangerous Beauties" exhibit in the Aquarium of Niagara in Niagara Falls, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021.

That changed this week, when the aquarium opened a new permanent exhibit called "Dangerous Beauties," for the arowana and an ocellate river stingray, which is being considered for a spot on the endangered species list.

They're together as the only tenants of a 3,200-gallon tank that used to hold trout, aquarium spokeswoman Christine Streich said.

The exhibit is the first under the corporate sponsorship of NOCO, the local energy company that recently joined the list of aquarium partners.

The arowana's importation into the United States is banned because it's an endangered species, but that didn't stop a smuggler from trying to sneak nine arowana guppies into the country from Canada at the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls on Dec. 15, 2002.

The Buffalo News reported at the time that the fish were in plastic bags of water hidden inside a teddy bear and in the spare tire well of the smuggler's vehicle.

The fish that survived were parceled out by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service among a few U.S. aquariums, including the Aquarium of Niagara.

Photo: Rare Fish Hickey

This female ocellate river stingray is shown in the new "Dangerous Beauties" exhibit in the Aquarium of Niagara in Niagara Falls on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021.

The aquarium had acquired the stingray in 2010 from the Fort Worth Zoo in Texas. It, too, had outgrown its surroundings and was living in a holding tank until the new exhibit was fashioned.

Bartholomew is about 2 feet long. Despite the name, the fish's gender is uncertain. "There's no easy way to tell," Streich said.

The stingray is about 15 inches across and is female.

"Their coloring and ability to thrive in fresh water make them popular in home aquariums," Streich said. "Thousands are harvested from rivers in Colombia, Peru and Brazil each year."

Besides the 2002 case, there were other local arowana smuggling arrests in 2007, 2008 and 2012, federal court records show.

“It is easy to think globally when you hear about illegal wildlife trade, but the reality is that we are dealing with this issue right here in Western New York, especially because of the close proximity to several international bridges," said Gary K. Siddall, Aquarium of Niagara president and CEO.

Streich said so far as she can tell, an arowana's median life expectancy is 10 to 20 years, but under good human care in an aquarium, that can increase substantially.

"The Dallas World Zoo says they have been documented to live to be as old as 60 years old under human care," Streich said.

As for the ocellate river stingray, Streich said the general consensus is that it has a median life expectancy of 10 to 15 years.

The Buffalo News: Good Morning, Buffalo

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