Koi carps, regularly present in ponds of Asian gardens, are well known for their beauty, docile temperament and longevity; they are also associated with love and happiness and can become enchanting pets.
Domestication of common carp
The common carp (Cyprinus carpio) is perhaps the most domesticated of all freshwater fish species. Through culture, selection and breeding, several varieties of domesticated carp have been developed, many of which are now very different from the wild ancestors.
Carp have been cultured in China for at least 2,500 years. There are now many varieties of carp used for food production in India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Thailand and Vietnam.
European varieties of common carp derive from wild carp of the Danube River valley. The main common carp producing countries in Europe are Russia, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Germany.
The breeding of Koi carp
Most carp production is destined for human consumption. An exception is the Japanese Koi. Koi fish are reared as ornamental fish in garden ponds and tanks and with proper care and “education” they can become wonderful, delightful pets.
Ponds at a busy shopping district in Shanghai. The bridges over the pond allow visitors to admire the colourful display of dozens of koi carps.
Koi carp were developed in Japan from the Chinese red common carp in the early 19th century. The Japanese have selected and improved several varieties since the 1830s. Currently, there are approximately 100 recognized varieties of Koi that differ in body shape, scale patterns, fin size, coloration and growth rate.
Koi are regularly associated with Asian gardens and ponds. In Chinese and Japanese culture the tame, colourful fish is considered a symbol of Feng-Shui and all the positive things valued by humans in life including wealth, good luck, abundance, prosperity, harmony, love and happiness. Koi carps are mostly found in Asian water gardens in China, Japan and Thailand, but also in gardens where people of Asian origin have emigrated, such as Vancouver (i.e. Dr. Sun Yan Sen Chinese Garden, Park and Tilford Gardens, UBC’s Nitobe Japanese Garden).
Koi ponds at Dr. Sun Yan Sen Chinese Garden in Vancouver, B.C.
Koi carp competitions
Since the 1970s Koi breeding has become a serious hobby and a profitable business in Japan and China. Many large breeding centres of Koi carp have been established in both countries to supply the domestic aquarium trade and the demands of the international market. Because of the extraordinary variability, beauty and docility, these domesticated fish have been known as “living jewels”.
Every year there are several shows and competitions in Japan where koi fans and breeders gather to compare and trade their fish and to issue awards to the champion animals in various categories. The value of a good Koi carp is such that in most cases by far surpasses the worth of a regular fish grown for food. “Pond quality” koi are valued at about 20-100 dollars. The average "show quality" fish is worth between US$ 200 and 400, while some prize-winning koi have been sold for over a hundred thousand dollars. For some masters, who have developed a true bond with their pet koi, their fish are priceless.
Hanako, longest-living Koi
Perhaps the most famous among Koi carp has been the legendary
Hanako, the scarlet hand-tame koi, lived almost 226 years.(Screengrab from topicstock.pantip.com).
Koi Hanako. This scarlet female carp is reputed to have lived about 226 years. Hanako, Japanese for “flower girl”, was owned and passed along several generations in the family of Dr. Komei Koshihara. He kept and hand-fed this fish, along with several other koi, in a garden pond at his house in the city of Gifu, Japan.
In1966, professor Koshihara decided to determine how old Hanako really was. He carefully removed a few scales from the fish and took them to Prof. Masayoshi Hiro, of the Laboratory of Animal Science, Nagoya Women's College. Dr. Hiro analysed the growth rings in the scales, known as annuli, and concluded that Hanako was no less than 215 years old. Hanako’s peaceful life at the pond continued for several additional years. In 1977, the venerable old fish died. Dr. Koshihara wrote a departure poem for his beloved fish of which I transcribe the final four verses: “Hanako, Dear, thou eatest feed from my hand
Then fondlingly suckest thou my empty fingers.
The aged carp, knowing all the family history of ours,
Deep under the limpid water has gone.” Some doubts have been raised about the precise longevity of Hanako. The normal life span of carp is estimated at about 47 years. There is little reason, however, to doubt of Dr. Koshihara’s honesty or the accuracy of Dr. Hiro´s scientific analysis to assess Hanako’s age. Perhaps it was good food, peace, company and unconditional love the factors that may have contributed to such an extraordinarily long life.