photographs by the author
A blackwater pond at Mandor, Indonesian Borneo.
It was a long public holiday in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo during the first week of June. I bought a bus ticket and went to visit my friend,
Yuping, who lives in Pontianak City,
Kalimantan Barat of Indonesian Borneo.
He met me at the bus station after my
9-hour journey, and I told him that I
wanted to collect some fighting fish for my
aquarium. He looked puzzled when I told
him the Kapuas River basin has a lot of
beautiful wild fighting fish. Yuping, along
with most of the people in Kalimantan, do
not know much about the wild fighting
fish. To them, “fighting fish” applies only
to the Siamese fighting fish Betta splendens
from Thailand, which is called “Ikan
Cupang” in Indonesia. I’ve even heard
that in the interior part of Kalimantan, the
Dayak people collect wild fighting fish to
feed to their ducks or food fish, like giant
snakeheads Channa micropeltes.
It was a hot Saturday morning when
Yuping and I arrived at our first location
at Sungai Mandor. I was stunned by the
scene in front of me. The dense forest had
been replaced with a bare, white, sandy
landscape. The habitat had been completely
destroyed by illegal gold mining activity.
There are a lot of small lakes and ponds
along the river, and some of these ponds
have been contaminated with mercury.
There is no life at all in those polluted
bodies of water.
We walked under the scorching sun for
15 minutes to the secondary forest near
the abandoned mining area and found an
unpolluted blackwater stream. The water
near the bank was very hot, but it was
cool in the middle of the stream. I caught
a few juvenile specimens of Betta sp.,
Rasbora gracilis, Rasbora pauciperforata,
Rasbora cephalotaenia, Sphaerichthys
osphromenoides, and Puntius hexazona.
Next, we headed south to a small
blackwater lake, in which we found even
more Betta and Rasbora juveniles. Most of
the fish hide under the submerged water
At 2 p.m., the cumulus clouds were
starting to develop in the sky. June should
have been the beginning of the dry season,
yet it rained almost every afternoon. Before
leaving that area, Yuping caught a female
Betta edithae, but I was a bit disappointed
that I could not find any Betta mandor at all
(this species of Betta was named after the
place it was discovered, Mandor).