On the Keeping of Endangered Fish

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On the Keeping of Endangered Fish

By Mary Martin, Ph.D., Animal Person

An Animal Person reader wrote me with the following question:

There are many species of cichlids in Lake Victoria that are on the verge of extinction, and most are hardy and small enough to be kept in an aquarium. There are conservation efforts to save these species by individual aquarists, who are keeping and breeding them in hopes that they can someday be reintroduced into the lake. Assuming that the fish are kept in a large aquarium that mimics their natural habitat, and that the keeper treats the fish as family (as they would a rescued dog, cat, rabbit, etc.), would you see keeping these fish confined in an aquarium as a rescue effort or as a selfish act by humans that interferes with Nature?

I think my feeling on it is that it's more of a rescue effort; that we humans made the mess that endangered the species in the first place, so we should do our best to fix it. As I share a home with rescued cats and rabbits, I can't help but think that it's better for them to live their lives cared for and loved than to be put to death in a shelter somewhere due to irresponsible overbreeding, even if they are now confined to the house.

Of course that also brings up the dilemma of feeding cats and fish, who are omnivores and actually need to eat some meat in order to be healthy. I adopted the cats before I became a vegan, and although I don't like the fact that they eat other animals, it is my responsibility to keep them healthy.

(I intend to stick with rescuing rabbits from now on.) I have always loved fish, and I'd like to be able to keep a species from becoming extinct, but is this an appropriate activity for a vegan? I'd really like to get your opinion on this.

For me, part if this goes to the question of whether or not we should breed or otherwise try to restore endangered species, in general. The answer to that question could, for some, be dependent upon whether the endangering is our doing.

The analogy to mammals we rescue is interesting; it's a good point. Is keeping animals because they're endangered any different from keeping them because they are homeless?

Can we ever meet the needs of fishes by keeping them in our homes?