Joy of koi

Gopinath Nagaraj: It's impossible not to be amazed by the sight of koi.

The Star Online, 12 February 2006

THEY are known as “living jewels” and, viewed in clear, sunlit water, one can understand why. Koi, the descendant of the common grey carp, are beautiful, brilliantly coloured fish with graceful movements that have a relaxing, almost mesmerising effect on most people.

At the Sentul Park Koi Centre, members of the public can view dozens of these fish as they flash through the water in specially designed ponds. It’s easy to lose track of time in this beautiful setting: The centre, with its Japanese-inspired design, is a serene haven in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur city centre. As you approach the area via the gently winding road that starts from busy Jalan Ipoh, the noise of traffic slowly recedes and the scenery becomes increasingly lush and green.

Once at the centre, it’s easy to convince yourself that you are in the countryside as all you can hear is the rustle of leaves and the lapping of water at the edge of the ponds. Stroll along the shady walkways that link the centre’s buildings, enjoy the tranquility of the zen garden and watch the fish as they swim in the two ponds located within the centre’s gardens. Finally, visitors who feel peckish can pop into Yuritei (House of Playful Koi) the centre’s Japanese restaurant.

This place would most certainly appeal to families in search of a peaceful place to spend an hour or two during weekends and that’s exactly what Luke Shori, managing director of the centre, hopes.

“Selling koi is only a secondary aim of this centre,” he says. “What we really want to do is sell a lifestyle.”

He said that he would like people to learn more about koi before considering keeping the fish as a hobby.

To this end, Shori has set up a library at the centre. One of the Japanese-style buildings on the grounds houses a collection of koi-related books, videos and magazines, and serves as a resource centre for koi enthusiasts and those who are new to the subject.

“It’s now a male dominated hobby, but we want to try to make it more accessible to the whole family,” says Shori.

Says Gopinath Nagaraj, who serves as consultant marine biologist at the centre, “It’s impossible not to be amazed by the sight of koi. If you spend time looking at the fish, you will be drawn to their beauty. They are living works of art.”

He says the koi is a result of selective breeding. “The ancestors of the present day koi or Nishikigoi (brocaded carp) were bred for food. They were the first fish to be cultivated in China, grown in baskets in rivers and then in ponds.”

Luke Shori, managing director of the Sentul Park Koi Centre, enjoying the peace and quiet by one of the koi ponds.

These carp were introduced to Japan, as a food source, more than 2,000 years ago and were kept in padi fields and small ponds. These fish were entirely black and it is believed that the first carp to sport coloured markings appeared in the early seventh century in Yamakoshi, in the Niigata region of Japan. The fish were then bred to enhance the different colours and patterns. To this day, koi of the highest quality tend to be the Japanese variety. 

According to Shori and Gopinath, the quality of koi is judged based on the structure of the fish (a fusiform/torpedo-shape is favoured), colour and markings (colours must be rich and bright; patterns distinctive and clear-cut; the skin unblemished and shiny). Generally speaking, a high quality koi is the product of careful breeding and good bloodlines. 

“Top breeders in Japan spend generations breeding certain characteristics in the koi,” says Shori. “Breeding there is often a family concern, with expertise and knowledge handed down through the generations. There is so much effort and tradition in Japan that the breeding process has evolved into something of an art form.” 

In contrast, breeders in countries like Israel and Malaysia tend to concentrate on mass production, with the focus on quantity rather than quality. 

“In Malaysia, there is also the tendency to equate size with quality,” says Shori. 

“The Japanese breeders concentrate on form and colour and markings, but koi in Malaysia are being bred to maximise the size of the fish. This may lead to a shortened lifespan and the weakening of the fish’s genetic structure.” 

“It’s hard to change this mindset,” adds Gopinath. 

“Here it’s all about size, and people don’t realise that there are other features to look out for. This centre hopes to do so by educating the public not only about the animal itself, but also the whole culture of koi rearing and breeding.”  

  • The Sentul Park Koi Centre, located at Lot 26B, Jalan Strachan, Off Jalan Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur, will be officially opened by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi at 3.30pm today. The centre’s business hours are from 9am to 8.30pm, seven days a week. For more information call 012-330 0644. 

  • Koi enthusiasts are serious about their hobby, competing for certificates and trophies that often take pride of place at home.

    Raising jewels

    SO you want some koi? Luke Shori, managing director of the Sentul Park Koi Centre, thinks the world of these fish, but warns those interested that they have to be prepared to invest time and money in them. 

    “The most important thing to think about if you want to keep koi is the pond – it’s the home of the fish and you want to provide the animals with good filtration and aeration. I believe that there can be no shortcuts in building a good pond for your fish.” 

    He says that it’s important to provide koi with the right environment and that although cheaper alternatives might be available, they may prove more expensive in the long run. 

    “If you don’t give your koi proper nutrition, space, etc, you may end up losing them.” 

    Marine biologist Gopinath Nagarah agrees, “Get into it properly if you’re going to get into it at all. Start slow and small and learn all you can about the fish.” 

    Haji Mohd Haji Hanifah is a koi hobbyist who occasionally enters his fish in competitions. He started keeping koi three years ago and feels he was initially unsuccessful because he did not have sufficient knowledge of what he was getting into. 

    “I learnt by trial and error,” recalls the 47-year-old geologist. “I started keeping koi because my friends were doing it. My heart was not in it at first. I did not learn to care properly for my fish and some died.” 

    He says it took him a year to gather information that would help him make a success of his hobby. “I read some good books and looked things up on the Internet.” 

    Hanifah now has two ponds and 20 healthy koi. “The ponds cost me RM40,000, but it is important to have good quality water and a good filtration system so it is money well-spent.” 

    As his koi are worth RM200,000 and have won him medals, most recently the grand prize at the Malaysian Young Koi show, providing them with the best living conditions is definitely in their and Hanifah’s best interest. However, despite the high price of his koi, they are not insured. 

    “It’s not possible to insure koi,” says Hanifah, “No company will agree to it. However, in the end they are like your children – if they die it’s not so much the money you regret. You come to love them and are very sad to lose them.” 

    For those who baulk at the thought of a RM40,000 pond and are looking at koi as a more casual hobby, Shori says that most koi centres will be able to offer advice and quotations according to budget. It is possible for a basic pond complete with koi to cost between RM500 and RM1,000. However, he maintains that the minimum cost of a good pond would be around RM25,000. 

    A trifle much for fish perhaps, but maybe not for “living jewels”. – By DAPHNE LEE 

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