Pet piranhas in backyard aquariums threaten disaster to mighty Mekong
GREG TORODE in Ho Chi Minh City
Of all the problems facing the mighty Mekong, the threat of flesh-eating South American piranhas is looming as the most bizarre.
The Vietnamese Fisheries Ministry is sounding the alarm that the voracious fish could find its way from the Amazon to the Mekong via home aquarium enthusiasts in Ho Chi Minh City's Chinatown.
The ministry has banned all imports of the creatures, which hunt in schools of hundreds and can grow up to nearly a metre long, after they were discovered in local market tanks.
'It could be a disaster,' warned state aquaculture researcher Dr Nguyen Viet Thang in the Thoi Bao Kinh Te newspaper. 'The Mekong Delta could prove an ideal breeding ground should they escape.' Fisheries experts are now searching fish suppliers and breeders across the city, with orders to destroy any piranhas found.
Both the Red-Bellied Piranha and the Dusky Piranha have been found in local stores and have proven a hit with fish lovers, some of whom travel from all over the region to buy cheap Vietnamese specimens.
'They are much more interesting to look at than traditional carp,' said Cholon fish breeder Tong Kim.
'They never seem to stop swimming. People love their sleek diamond shape and like to stir them up by putting dog meat in the tanks,' he said.
'You must remember not to put your fingers in the tank or put the piranhas in tanks with other fish.
'I've been selling them for several years, I'm surprised it has taken the authorities this long to find out they are here.'