Part 2. Rufiji River
Ian Sainthouse

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location Tan95/6 Loc.TAN95/6 Adjacent Mbezi River - type locality of N.rubripinnis and N. luekei

So far we had failed to get into the Selous Game Reserve via the Mikumi National Park and also the Morogoro/Kisaki route. The debate now was whether or not we would make it at the third attempt. This attempt was to take us down the road along which we had originally planned to return from the Selous, viz. via Kibiti.
Ten years earlier Ruud Wildekamp had travelled along this road and then it was an excellent tarmac surface, now nothing could be further from the truth! We had anticipated that it would take about two hours to reach Kibiti but by the time we got there it was 3pm. Admittedly we had stopped once on the way at the Mbezi River.
This is the type locality of N. rubripinnis and also N. luekei and is about 50km. south of Dar es Salaam. We managed to find a few pairs of N. rubripinnis but had to give up without finding a single specimen of N. luekei. It was our original intention upon reaching Kibiti to continue further south along the main road to the Ruhoi River - the type locality of N. eggersi. As it had taken us so long to get to Kibiti, we had to abandon the idea and aim for the Rufiji River Camp at which we had planned to stay for the night.
From Kibiti there was still about 110km. to go in a westerly direction to get to the camp and this was along dirt tracks. Initially the road surface was reasonable but it was undulating with floodwater in the depressions. This did not unduly delay us but it did not last for long! The depressions soon turned into mud holes which got progressively worse. Eventually, with about 70km. to go we stopped to confer. Should we turn back to Kibiti? It was now 5pm and would soon be getting dark.

Location Tan95/7
locality of N. eggersi Red Rufiji River Camp Tan 95/7

What happened next was one of those unbelievable occurrences. We were in the middle of nowhere when another Landrover appeared! In it were two wildlife conservation workers. We explained our situation to them and apparently they knew the route. As they were going to a place nearby the Rufiji River Camp they suggested that we follow them. This we did. We were soon past the worst of the mud and it was not long before it was dark. All we had to follow were two red lights varying in intensity according to the amount of dust blown up by the wheels of the vehicle in front.Eventually we made it to the camp and were greeted with surprise by the owner. It transpired that he had been there for three years and in all that time no "tourist" had arrived by road. The normal route is by light aircraft to the nearby landing strip. We explained the purpose of our trip to the owner. He said that he knew of the nearby pools, but there were no fish in them. However, he would show them to us the following morning.
The night was spent under canvas in a forest. Camping was never like this at home! We each had a tent to ourselves equipped with two four poster beds and well-equipped ensuite bathroom with all the mod cons including hot water and electricity. The following morning we were up and dressed before daybreak - courtesy of a troupe of extremely noisy monkeys in the trees around and above my tent. True to his word the camp owner was ready after breakfast to take us to the pools which were a couple or so kilometres away. He was astonished to see the contents of our nets once dipped into the water!

fish eating spider
A fish eating spider enjoying a Nothobranchius janpapi. Hold the mouse over the image for a close up! (or click for non-javascript browsers)

These pools contained three species of killifish. They were N. janpapi, N. melanospilus and the one species that was the reason why we were so determined to get to this place, N. eggersi. This population was special. Many years ago a red phenotype had been collected near the Rufiji River Camp but, unfortunately, only a male survived. This was crossed with other populations of the same species and the offspring are the ancestors of the fish that have been circulating as 'Red' and incorrectly as 'Rufiji River Camp'. The pure aquarium strain produced from fish we collected from this locality is identified amongst aquarists as N. eggersi Red Rufiji River Camp TAN95/7. Let us hope that we will be able to keep the strain pure!

At this locality we noticed a number of fish eating spiders on the water surface and inadvertantly caught one in a net whilst searching for fish. This spider, very conveniently, stayed in the net long enough for us to take some photographs and then made a dash for the ground. Once on the ground it stopped again so more photo's were taken. It was not until I returned home and had the slides developed that I noticed that the spider, when on the ground, had hold of a fish! The head, and particularly the eye was visible in front of the spider. It's body must be lying from front to back underneath the spiders body.

Location Tan95/8 locality of N. eggersi Blue Rufiji River Camp Tan 95/8
N.eggersi Blue Rufiji River Tan95/8 N. eggersi Blue Rufiji River Camp Tan 95/8 (photo J Haffegee)

Precisely how it picked up the fish we are not sure but it must have done so as it dashed off the net. We were sure the fish was not under the spider when we photographed it in the net! The fish incidentally was N. janpapi, a fish that does tend to inhabit the upper waters , so in the pool would most likely be the prey of these spiders.

One of the reasons why we have put 'red' into the name of the N. eggersi from the camp is, that whilst trying to get to another pool, we came across some vehicle tracks full of water and here we also found N. eggersi.
This time, although only 2km. from locality 7, these fish were blue! There did not appear to be any obvious barrier separating the two populations, but barrier there must have been as both populations breed true to their respective colours. This other population is identified as N. eggersi Blue Rufiji River Camp TAN95/8.
We returned to the camp for lunch and then set off on the return journey to Kibiti where we planned to spend the night. We had been told that in the village there was a reasonably good guesthouse. As we left the camp a potential problem was identified - how to find our way back to Kibiti. Most of the route to the camp had involved following the vehicle in front in the dark! In daylight, as far as we could see in all directions (and a lot further!) it was just featureless dusty scrubland with a number of intersecting tracks. The only way out was to try to follow the wheel-tracks we had made the night before in the dust. Thank goodness it hadn't rained!

Location Tan95/9
Locality Tan95/9

Location Tan95/10
Locality Tan95/10

On the way to the Rufiji River Camp, just before it had got dark, we had noticed an area, which looked as though it could have been a reasonable biotype for Nothobranchius. We stopped here on the return journey. Not unexpectedly it produced the usual N. melanospilus and N. janpapi. Suddenly, just as we were about to pack up and move on, Ruud Wildekamp called out to us. He had in his net another species that was at the top of our 'wants' list! It was the largest specimen of Nothobranchius I had ever seen. We had N. ocellatus - a specimen about 150mm long! Eventually we had six specimens of about the same size, which, very conveniently, were three pairs. They were so large we didn't have ideal sized bags for them but they survived very well. They had an oversized polystyrene box all to themselves. The only problems we had with them were a few leeches that appeared from time to time in the bags - where they came from was not clear. We also had to clear unfertilised eggs from the bags containing females.
We continued on our way but by the time we reached Kibiti it was well past dark. The guesthouse recommended to us turned out to be full, so we had to seek out the other guesthouse in the village. There is little one can say about the standard of this guesthouse other than at U.S. $1 for a room for the night it was grossly over priced! Needless to say, the next morning we were up and about very early!

The reason that we were keen on stopping at Kibiti was that it would provide us with the opportunity of getting to the type locality of N. eggersi. This was just under 20km. to the south of Kibiti on the road to Lindi. The locality is easy to identify as it is on the side of the road by the bridge over the Ruhoi River. At the locality we of course found the ubiquitous N. melanospilus but could only find females of N. eggersi. We left them in the pool and decided to continue southwards across the bridge in search of another pool. We ended up another 20 or so kilometres south of the Ruhoi at the Rufiji River where we turned around to start our journey back north to Dar es Salaam. About 1 km. from the Rufiji River we noticed some water that was not too promising in appearance but we stopped and collected a few N. melanospilus and N. janpapi. There were no N. eggersi.

Location Tan95/11
Locality of N. eggersi Ruhoi River TAN95/11

It was back to the Ruhoi River before we encountered any more water. We stopped on the south side of the river and about 100m to the west we found a small pool containing both male and female N. eggersi. These we collected and are identified as N. eggersi Ruhoi River TAN95/11.
From here on the return journey to Dar was uneventful. We stopped again at locality TAN95/6 and collected a few more N. rubripinnis however there was still no N. luekei to be found. We continued north and arrived at our hotel in Dar whilst it was still daylight! This was the first time that this had been achieved on this expedition!

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