Killers in a Tilburg Living Room



Translation by Jonas Hansel


Piranha's, the 'killers of the Amazon', are increasingly popular as pets. Richard van der Meijden (aged 22) of Tilburg keeps this predatory fish and tries to breed them. "They say they are very good food as well, but I could never eat them. You don't eat something you really enjoy."


You can put your finger in the tank without having to worry. "As long as you're not bleeding, and the fish are well-fed, they will not attack you." Richard van der Meijden (aged 22) of Tilburg is really crazy about piranha's. "Because the shape of their heads make them look so impressive and dangerous ", he laughs. "They really are tough fish".


The predator is known as a killer, a bloodthirsty fish of which people think they can eat entire cows or humans in no-time. "That image is vastly exaggerated, partly because of the Piranha movies", Van der Meijden says. "In the Amazon they live in huge shoals. When they get hungry and encounter a cow standing in the water, they might attack it. But in the end they are very important fish, the garbage-men of the Amazon. They eat sick and dead fish, and also other animals that accidentally fall into the water – dead or alive."

When Van der Meijden started living on his own, he bought a larger aquarium. "But back then I had no idea what to put in it. I wanted to start with a sturgeon and tropical fish. But their appeal faded quickly." A fish tank of a friend containing something much more interesting: piranha's. "Then I realized that was what I wanted."


The purchase of two baby piranha's was the start of a new-born passion. Nowadays, the center piece in his living room is a very large aquarium with seven Red bellied Piranha's, all about twenty centimeters in size. The painter by profession also visits the piranha.fury.nl on a daily basis, a website where piranha enthusiasts from all over Holland and Belgium talk, exchange information and even arrange meetings. "This year I have been to the Noorder Dierenpark Zoo in Emmen, and also to Belgium. And I got together with some people that I met on the website at the Ecodrome nature park in Zwolle and at my place."


Watching for hours


His girlfriend Tess (aged 19) of Schijndel is amused by Richard's out-of-control hobby. "In most living rooms the television set is the center piece. Here the TV sits quietly in a corner, and its space is taken up by the aquarium. Richard can look at it for hours, and it really relaxes him."


An aquarium requires a lot of time and a lot of money when starting. "This aquarium cost me 2400 euro", according to Van der Meijden. "My friends do very different things with such an amount of money."


The piranha's have to be fed, the water needs to be clean and at the right temperature (around 27 degrees Celsius), en all that is quite a time-consuming task. "I have a special aquarium vacuum cleaner to clean the bottom of the tank. When I'm doing that, I keep my arm in the water, where the piranha's are. In South America people swim in piranha-infested rivers all the time. Like I said before: they will only attack if you are bleeding or when when they are very hungry."


The Tilburg painter bought the seven piranha's at three different places. "I was hoping that they would pair up, and got them at different places to prevent inbreeding". And Van der Meijden got what he wanted: two of his fish built a nest. "The fish started to act really different all of a sudden: they were circling each other. It almost looked like dancing. I used the internet to find out what this could be, and then someone told me it could be breeding behavior." Then, and his girlfriend laughs when she memorizes it, on morning Van der Meijden woke up really early and jumped out of bed. "It was like he felt something had happened", Tess says with a smile. "He rushed to the fish tank downstairs, en then he discovered thousands of tiny eggs." But unfortunately, this first batch proved unsuccessful: all the fry died. "But now I know I have a breeding pair, and the next time I will be monitoring them much more closely."


Despite his love for fish Richard has not named his fish, but according to Van der Meijden the fish do recognize him. "When I have visitors, the fish become shy and very pale. But when I'm home alone, they are all dark in color and swim around happily."


The piranha is a predator, and to appeal to their hunting instincts, Richard at times feeds them – live – goldfish. "That may seem cruel, but that's how things go in nature." But usually they are fed chicken breast, mussels, fish fillet or some shrimp every second day. "It's important to offer them a varied diet. Just like humans, piranha's need to get enough vitamins."


The piece de resistance of Van der Meijden's collection is a stuffed piranha. "Bought during a vacation in Belgium", he says proudly. "I just into it accidentally, and I just had to have it. We didn't have much money with us that day, so for the rest of the day we had very little left for eating and drinking."


Van der Meijden nowadays is a frequent visitor of the Aquarium- en Dierenspeciaalzaak Pentazona, a pet store in Tilburg. "There is so much to find about tropical aquarium here. I visit the store at least once every week."


There is still one thing to do for the Tilburg resident: fishing for piranha's. "As soon as I have enough money, I will go to South America. Catching piranha's. And the more the better. It must be so great to travel the Amazon in a small boat with some small animal as bait, and then hooking one of these truly amazing critters."

The Facts







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