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Frequently Asked Questions

Are you a shop?

Yes Mike's Rifts is a fully licensed pet shop and registered business that sells to the public.

Why are you appointment only?

Our business premises are based at home therefore visits need to be pre-arranged. This can be done via telephone or email.

What times are suitable for an appointment?

Monday - Friday 9.30am - 3.30pm
Sat 10am - 5pm
Sun 11am - 5pm
Also evening appointments are possible from 7-9pm

If I can't make an appointment what happens?

If for whatever reason you cannot make an appointment just contact us to let us know. We can re-arrange your appointment and open up your original slot for another customer. If a customer fails to notify us of a cancelled visit twice we reserve the right to refuse that customer any futher appointments to view stock.

If I can't make a visit how do I order fish from you?

You can telephone or send an email to make a stock enquiry. Once you have finalised your order a secure payment can be made over the phone using your debit or credit card and we can then send the order out via APC on a next day delivery.

Why don't you send fish using royal mail surely its cheaper?

Royal mail are not licensed to handle live aquarium fish so the issue is that their handling systems do not take into account the welfare of livestock. APC on the other hand hold a DEFRA issued licence to carry livestock and their staff are well versed on how to handle fish.

Where do you get your fish from?

Our wild caught fish are imported directly from east Africa and we do not buy from third parties. This ensures the fish are what they are supposed to be. Our tank bred stocks are sourced from suppliers who offer the best quality rather than the best price.

I've heard there are just loads of companies in Africa breeding these fish so they are not really wild but pond bred?

There is only one company based in Burundi who breed Tanganyikan cichlids in ponds, apart from some very small scale breeding for endangered species it's a myth that wild caught fish are pond bred. It's been tried by several people in the past but has failed as running fish farms for aquaculture in the countries in the rift lake region has proven extremely problematic.

Why Mike's Rifts and who is this Mike?

Mike's Rifts was set-up over 5 years ago after a redundancy notice made Mike think long and hard about what he really wanted to do with his life. As for this Mike well I've been keeping Malawi & Tanganyikan cichlids since a young lad, its been over 30 years now of keeping these fish and this hobby has enabled me to visit both Lake Malawi and Lake Tanganyika to dive and explore their waters. My life long passion for these animals is what continues to drive my business onwards.

Why can't you sell me groups of just females or whatever ratio I want?

Tank bred stocks come in at a 50/50 ratio so they are sold as such. With some wild caught fish there can be more females than males, this can be seen with Tropheus where they are exported at 1m:2f ratios but this is not the norm for most wild caught fish which are exported as 1m:1f. Sometimes extra females are available as some customers want only coloured males for display tanks therefore leaving spare females.

Why do you carry out weekly water changes on your tanks?

Several reasons, to renew minerals and trace elements, to remove dissolved organic waste that a filter cannot remove and to reduce the populations of disease pathogens that can build up in a fish tank.

Why do you recommend storage and aeration of water before using it?

Whilst in storage chlorine will degass as will carbon dioxide which leads to stable water for water changing. Also it gives you an opportunity to increase the pH safely by adding buffers before you add the water to the tank. This can considerably minimise the stress on your livestock.

Why don't you use centralised systems?

This can lead to the spread of disease pathogens from one tank to another therefore a problem with just one tank can quickly lead to every tank having the same problem. It's safer for the fish to be kept in individual tanks especially newly imported wild caught stock.

Are wild caught cichlids better than tank bred?

For the vast majority of rift valley cichlid keepers tank bred fish are the best option but for breeding stocks that are guaranteed to be unrelated then wild caught fish are often the best option. Also some fish are just not available as tank bred fish so the only option is to buy wild caught.

Are F1 fish better than wild caught fish?

In many respects yes they are, they will have the colour and vibrancy of wild stock except with a greater robustness to captive conditions. In some cases F1 stocks can be actually better looking than their wild counterparts.

Why do so many people claim to have F1?

The simple answer is many of them are not true F1's, some people are either ignorant of what it means or they lie. Some people may also sell tank bred fish as wild caught therefore leading the new owner to believe they have wild caught stock and so any fry bred from them they label mistakenly as F1.

What is Malawi Bloat?

Malawi bloat is a disease that affects cichlids from the rift valley lakes. It's commonly thought to be caused by parasites that live naturally in the digestive tracts of these fish. These parasites all belong to the group of micro-organisms called flagellated protozoa, namely Hexamita, Spironucleus and Cryptobia. These pathogens are found commonly in cichlids worldwide. Bloat starts with a population explosion of one of these groups of flagellated protozoa in the fishes gut lining where if left untreated can spread to the fishes body cavity and attack vital organs such as the kidney. This leads to the breakdown in the fishes renal system and therefore they become "bloated" with waste fluids which eventually leads to their demise. This disease can be avoided by feeding the correct diet and keeping tank conditions clean, stress is thought to play a large factor in outbreaks of "bloat" along with overfeeding or feeding with foodstuffs containing too much animal protein.

How do I spot bloat?

Early signs can be very subtle but fish eating and then spitting out or regurgitating food are a sure sign they have a gut infection. Often this leads to the infected fish completely loosing interest in eating. Sometimes infected fish will also become more reclusive and hang towards the back of the tank and hide away. As a natural immune response to bloat the fish will start to shed gut lining which is seen as white stringy fecal material. It's important to understand that if this material is chewed by other tank mates it can cause the spread of bloat, also regurgitated food can spread the infection as tank mates will consume it. So when a fish is first suspected of having bloat its always best practice to remove and isolate the infected fish into a quarantine tank.

Is Malawi bloat a treatable disease?

Yes its perfectly treatable as long as its spotted early on. Waterlife's Octozin is a highly effective cure for Malawi bloat.

Is it OK to mix cichlids from different rift valley lakes?

In our experience it's not worth the risk, lets put aside the differences in water conditions, behaviour and diets and look at one single aspect alone and that is when you mix wild caught cichlids from Tanganyika and Malawi they are then exposed to each others parasites. This may lead to a situation where a Tanganyikan cichlid becomes infected with a pathogen that came from a Malawi cichlid (and vice versa) that it has zero immune response to. This could lead to illness and loss of livestock, so in our opinion it's best to keep the fishes from each lake seperate.

Are there other diseases that are a problem for rift valley cichlids?

Although Malawi and Tanganyikan cichlids can become infected with many common diseases there are some they are more susceptible to such as Columnaris disease which newly imported wild caught stocks are particularly prone to. Also there have been several outbreaks of Fish TB (Mycobacterium) reported over the past several years, these outbreaks tend to centre around a particular supplier/facility/fish room.

What is a "Marmalade Cat" or "Mcat"?

An Mcat is a male Malawian Mbuna which has a genetic defect and shows both the normal male colouration blended in with an Orange Blotch colour pattern. Mcat males are found naturally within wild populations of Mbuna that have Orange Blotch females. They are relatively rare as a wild caught fish and therefore often command high prices.

Useful terms for Malawi and Tanganyikan cichlid keepers

Wild Caught - Any Malawi or Tanganyikan cichlid described as wild caught should have been collected in either Lake Malawi or Lake Tanganyika.
Pond Bred - This is a fish that has been bred and reared in a pond.
Lakeside Bred - Fish that have been bred and reared in tanks or ponds next to a Rift Valley Lake.
Tank Bred - This is a fish that has been bred and reared in a fish tank.
F1 - With Malawi and Tanganyikan cichlids it is used to inform how many generations removed from wild caught parents. So F1 refers to 1 generation removed from wild caught, with F2 referring to 2 generations removed from wild caught.
Local Bred - Malawi or Tanganyikan cichlids bred in the UK.
Euro Bred - Malawi or Tanganyikan cichlids that were bred in countries on the continent such as Germany, Holland and the Czech Republic.
Far Eastern Bred - Malawi or Tanganyikan cichlids that have been bred in countries such as Singapore, Thailand and Sri Lanka.

Notes about wild caught Malawi and Tanganyikan cichlids

When initially imported they need time to settle into captivity, with the right care they can become truly stunning specimens.
It is normal that the fish are of mixed sizes as individuals of different ages are collected side by side.
Certain physical attributes may look more pronounced e.g. lips and head structure. Wild caught rift valley cichlids will have the correctly proportioned bodies and shape that is true to their species. Often with tank bred stocks these attributes are dulled down or lost to inbreeding.
Within a batch of stock of the same species there will be some variation in mature male colouration as they will be from different parents and therefore unrelated to each other.
Wild caught rift valley cichlids are more demanding and therefore harder to maintain than tank or pond bred stocks and are not reccommended for a hobbyists first attempt at keeping Malawi and Tanganyikan cichlids.
For the production of high quality young rift valley cichlids wild caught breeding stock is often the best option as you are able to select adult brood stock from unrelated fish.

Information about water quality for Malawi and Tanganyikan cichlids

The Rift Valley Lakes of Malawi and Tanganyika are huge bodies of water and because of their mass they are relatively stable environments for life (just like an ocean or sea). The cichlids that live in these lakes have evolved spectacularly over the ages to take advantage of the myriad of habitats they offer.
What this means for aquatic hobbyists is that we have a group of animals that have evolved to live within stable and clean water conditions and it is important to remember they need these conditions to thrive in captivity!
An effective filter system and regular partial water changes are essential tools in the quest for these conditions.
Choice of filter systems is vast and there are many solutions available from low to high tech, all aim to do the same job which is to filter out and breakdown organic waste products within your aquarium.
All filters once matured will process ammonia into nitrite and then nitrite into nitrate and it's important to understand that Malawi and Tanganyikan cichlids are adversely effected by a build up of nitrate in their environment. In the wild they would never come into contact with nitrate but in our aquariums it is often allowed to build up freely over time and becomes a creeping menace to the long term health of our fish.
Weekly water changes are an essential part of keeping nitrate levels low, the amount of the water changed depends greatly upon stocking densities and how much nitrate is present in your tap water to start with. Some hobbyists can keep nitrate levels in check with 20-25% changed weekly whilst others need to carry out 50%+ per week to keep levels under control.
The important thing to remember is that weekly partial water changes are essential and allowing nitrates to creep up will have a detrimental effect upon these fish.
Of equal importance is the quality of the water used for partial water changes, which means,
Water is fully dechlorinated, all chlorine or chloromines should be removed from the water.
Temperature of the new water should approximate that of the water it is replacing.
pH and hardness levels should match that of the water in the aquarium.
The above 3 can all be carried out in a bucket/tank/barrel in advance but what should be avoided is placing a hose pipe straight from the cold water tap into your tank and then dosing with dechlorinator and pH buffers.
The changes to your tanks chemistry and temperature will knock it's stability and will effect not only the fish but also the micro-organisms which are responsible for the breakdown and conversion of dissolved organic waste.
A period of 24hrs aeration and storage is even better and this allows the tap water to de-gass and release it's load of carbon dioxide, which improves the waters chemical stability.
If you can make one single change to your fish keeping husbandry it should be to carry out weekly partial water changes using the correctly pre-conditioned water, you will find over time that the health of your livestock will improve greatly.

Notes about pH buffering for Malawi and Tanganyikan cichlids

Malawi and Tanganyikan cichlids should be kept in a pH above 7, especially wild caught specimens which will prosper in a higher pH range.
Many hobbyists are told that by filling their tanks with coral sand and ocean rock their pH will be maintained at the correct level as these substrates/rocks will leach minerals into the water.
Coral sand and ocean rock are made up mainly of calcium carbonate and this mineral requires acidic conditions to dissolve and release mineral content. If your pH is 7 or above they will not add any useful buffering capacity to your water so do not rely upon them to maintain your tanks pH at the correct levels.
It is a myth that they will maintain a high pH for rift valley cichlids; instead the basis of achieving a correct pH should be the use of pH buffers which can be purchased as either a powder or a liquid.
It's important to understand that any change in your tanks pH should be done very slowly and should be carried out over weeks until you achieve the desired pH. This can be easily achieved via your weekly water change.
DO NOT add buffers directly to a tank full of fish, the drastic pH change will stress them greatly and may even send them into shock and kill them.
For the correct buffering of your pH a good place to start is to test your tap water to find what natural buffering capacity it may already contain. You may find it is naturally of a suitable pH and therefore no further buffering by you is needed. If not then pre-buffering using the weekly water change is the way to go.
It's a good idea to test your tap water after allowing it to stand for 24hrs to allow the carbon dioxide to de-gas from the water. The saturation of Co2 as tap water passes thru the pipe work to your home will often lower the pH. By allowing the Co2 to come out of the water you should see the pH rise.
It's interesting to test the water straight out of the tap and then again after 24hrs left standing. If there is no difference between these two readings it may mean that Co2 levels within your water are not over-saturated. On the other hand many hobbyists find a difference in these two readings, for example it comes out of the tap at 6.9 and rises to 7.4 over 24hrs.
By pre-storing and buffering your water correctly you will save on the amount of buffers you need to raise the pH to the correct levels and also give your African cichlids the best possible conditions to thrive in.

Stocking Tanganyikan and Malawi Cichlids

Many hobbyists often think it is fine to stock both Tanganyikan and Malawi cichlids together in the same aquarium. At Mike's Rifts we have found that customers whom do this have more problems than those that do not mix fish from both lakes.
Hobbyist's that keep cichlids from both lakes seperately will have more success because their fish are being housed with species that have common behaviours, dietry requirements and breeding patterns. Keeping Tanganyikan and Malawi cichlids seperate limits the chances of issues arising from incompatibility. Also it's important to understand with wild caught stocks there are disease pathogens present on these fish that cichlids from the opposing lake cannot cope with.
Another important factor to understand is that the cichlids from Tanganyika are far older as a group of fish and exhibit behaviour patterns, methods of feeding and breeding that the Malawi cichlid species have no common ground with. Tanganyikan cichlids are a far more complex group of fish so there are more chances of making a mistake with regards to stocking compatible species. For example many new Tanganyikan keepers come from keeping Malawi cichlids first, they often make the mistake of thinking that all rock dwelling Tanganyikan cichlids are compatible with each other the same as they believe with Malawian Mbuna species. This is just not so and time and time again we see hobbyists keeping Cyphotilapia frontosa with potential prey species, C. frontosa can grow to over 30cm long and at that size can eat 10cm tank mates on their nightly forays for food!
Another issue with mixing the fish from both lakes is that you need to take into account dietry requirements, keeping Tropheus in with species that require more fish and invertebrate protein in their diets is not a great idea. Tropheus can be intolerant of high animal protein diets and need a more vegetable protein based diet, the same can be said of Malawian Mbuna species as they too can be intolerant of high protein diets.
So it's always best practice not to mix fish from either Lake and keep Malawi cichlids with Malawi cichlids and Tanganyikan cichlids with Tanganyikan cichlids.
There are volumes of text written about compatibility within just the Malawian Mbuna species never mind Malawi Vs. Tanganyikan cichlids, so why expose your fish to any unecessary risk? keep it simple and steer away from shoe horning everything you take a fancy to into the same tank.
You will find that by allowing your fishes natural behaviour and character to flourish you will get far more enjoyment from them.

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