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Akvarij.net

Ivan Mikolji interviewed by Neven Vorkapić of akvarij.net in Croatia. The interview was published online on the akvarij.net website on October 19, 2014.

Mr. Mikolji, welcome to Akvarij.net (Neven Vorkapic)
Thank you all, for having me on your site.

 

You were born in Caracas, Venezuela in 1972. Can you tell us a bit more about your childhood, what was young Ivan like, what did he want be when he grew up?
I remember clearly that my mother would drive me to school in Caracas every morning. Traffic was always terribly slow and bumper to bumper. I was probably 5 or 6 years old. Every day we would drive over bridges, crossing many small creeks. I remember clearly looking at them with so much interest. I wanted to get out of the car and go down and see what kind of animals lived in them. They looked mysterious, like they had many secrets. I found them magical.

As a kid, I never knew and or thought of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I never wanted to be in the classroom, I wanted to be outside, climbing trees, hiking or looking for quartz crystals in the mountain behind the school. I could never sit down and do my homework but I could spend hours cleaning and looking at the aquarium.  We always had an aquarium at home, for as long as I can remember.

As time passes and things in life change, priorities come first. One of the crucial moments in my life was when I read the book, “Relatos de un Trotaselvas” by Karl Weidmann which is available in German too with the title of Heiter bis bewölkt. This book showed me that it was possible to be a great explorer, if you really wanted to. It also taught me that if you wrote from the heart, you could make people feel like they were there with you, experiencing the moment. Karl Weidmann is definitely a figure that I admire. Just after reading a couple of chapters in the book, I realized and knew that exploring rivers was definitely what I wanted to do.

What made you the explorer you are today? When and why did you decide to do what you are doing now?
I have always liked nature. Many trips as a child to remote areas instilled landscapes, aromas and many other distinguishing things in my mind, they are memories that you never forget. I remember going to the bush on many occasions as a teenager without my parents, taking only rice and shot gun ammunition with me. I would eat what I hunted or fished. I have spent so much time in my life since I was 12 years old exploring remote areas that I would have to write a book to include all my memories and encounters that even include ghosts, witch doctors, and soothsayers.

One of the most crucial moments, explorer wise, was a trip I made with Oliver Lucanus of Below Water. That trip was an awakening. I loved nature, fish, rivers, water, swimming, exploring, science and especially, videography and photography. Watching him work in the bush made me realize how I could put all of my interests together. I guess many people have these similar likings, Oliver just presented them in front of my eyes, I kind of owe it all to him.

 

Exploration, amazing photography and documentaries require a lot of love and energy. We are interested in the extent of your work?  What else do you do besides exploration and photography?
My image archive up till today has about 196,934 images. Videos include hundreds of hours of underwater footage. If I upload 10 images a day to my website it will take me about 53 years to upload them all.

I started my real image and video documenting “job” in 2005. Back then I only took images and video of fish. Little by little after so many expeditions I started to understand how everything in nature relates. All of a sudden, I think I became friends with nature.  Now, instead of just rushing into a river to see what fish are in it, I can stand on the River bank, look around, and really see all that is in front of me. Now, I get to a place and automatically start visually analyzing, from the abiotic components to the benthic sediments and be fulfilled just by looking. So, a new world opened up slowly, I now document the biome, ecosystem, habitats, microhabitats, underwater reflections, wild flowers, aquatic plants, ants, rocks, etc… they have all become interesting. Maybe it is all a preparation process, who knows what comes next!

When I am not out and about in the bush, I work at home writing articles, or a never ending book, working on my never ending website, uploading stock footage to youtube, and taking care of my family. I have 3 wonderful children which keep me and my wife very busy.

Oliver Lucanus and Ivan Mikolji image taken by George Fear
The Fish Guys, George Fear and Ivan Mikolji

Tell us more about “Fundación Peces de Venezuela”.
Fundacion Peces de Venezuela or Fish from Venezuela Foundation is/was a nonprofit organization founded by me. It was Prof. Antonio Machado- Allison’s idea to create it to give my documenting “job” a “legal” status. Back in the day, the Venezuelan government created a law which obligated every company to pay a “science stimulation tax” to any entity doing scientific research. So, basically the first objective of the foundation was to receive this tax money from “friend companies” that were interested in what we were doing and use the money to pay for the trips, gear, website, and all other expenses.

One month after the Fundacion Peces de Venezuela was created, the government passed a new law that stated that the “science stimulation tax” had to be paid directly to the government and they would decide who they wanted to sponsor. Well, of course we never got sponsored, fish are not a priority in Venezuela.

So, we decided to look for “good will” sponsors, willing to support the cause. We created the aquatic-experts website and asked scientists and aquarium people to join. In a month or so we had many ichthyologists, entomologists, aquarists, botanists and many other helping us identify and catalog the different animal and plant images on the website.

All of a sudden for a brief period, the foundation became a big dream filled with lots of optimism and hope but still with no money. A couple of years after opening it, reality hit us and realized finding sponsors was too hard and we gave up. It became one of my biggest dissolutions. This “dissolution” is what made me rediscover myself as an individual and start over as me, Mikolji. If I told the sad stories behind looking for donations and sponsors, you would not believe them and probably would make you look at many of the brands you use today in a different way. Looking for donations or sponsors to promote our work was awful, I hope I do not need to go through that again.

Ivan Mikolji
Monocirrhus polyacanthus American Leaf Fish 5011

You have a beautiful country. Do people of Venezuela appreciate and even realize the vastness of its biodiversity and natural beauty?
No, the majority of the people do not appreciate, know, or care about biodiversity. Priorities are completely basic. Preservation of habitats their flora and fauna is not on the top of their priority list, it is actually not even on their list. The lack of ecological initiatives in Venezuela enphasises the importance of our work.

 

What is your favorite nature spot in Venezuela?
Wow, that is a very difficult question to answer. There are so many incredible places. I think my favorite nature spot is the one I have not explored yet.

I can probably catalog places like this:

A)     Favorite fishing place: Tamanaco Dam, Guarico, Venezuela. A spot in it called “Carpintero” has to be one of the most magical places I have ever been to.

B)     Favorite photography place: The Gran Sabana (The Lost World), Bolivar, Venezuela. The diversity of underwater and above water themes in this area cannot be captured all in a lifetime. It’s just a nature photographer’s paradise.

C)     Favorite spot to feel like the first person to explore the area all the time: Top of the Chaviripa Falls, Bolivar, Venezuela. The summit of the falls can only be conquered in a short window of time in the dry season. The top area of the falls which is huge has no human traces. Not a can, bottle cap… every river corner you take makes you think you will find the mythical city of El Dorado.

D)     Favorite exploring place: Anytime, anywhere, everywhere…

 

What was your favorite fish discovery moment?
I do not have many fish discoveries because the strangest fish that are unknown today are found places that are not possible or very hard to photograph or video. New rare fish are usually caught with a seine or a hand net. I almost never grab a hand net or seine. I go around looking between the plants, under fallen trees and over the leaf litter. The crazy looking strange new fish live under the sand, under the leaf litter or in very strong currents with shallow water.

One of those rare discovery moments was when exploring a stream in the Venezuelan Amazon. It was the rainy season so the stream had overflown and flooded the rainforest around. You knew you were swimming in the “stream channel” because there was a wide path with no tree trunks. I was floating about 3 or 4 meters above the river bed which was covered in a thick layer of leaf litter.  I took a deep breath and sunk to the bottom, trying to get a close up macro shot of some micro Crenicichla that I had seen there which seemed to have a very tiny mouth. I got to the bottom, lay flat on the leaf litter and immediately started looking for the 2 to 4 cm fish. All of a sudden, out of the leaf litter right in front of me, comes out something electrical green. By then I am starting to run out of air. The strange super green fish only stuck out part of its head. The fish resembled a Crenicichla about 2cm in diameter. I went up for air, quickly turned on my video camera and headed back down. He never came out again!  What was it? I do not know, but I am sure it was something new and amazing.

Ad Konings, Ivan Mikolji and Uwe Werner in the Scandinavia Cichlid Organization meeting 2012
Ivan Mikolji

Tell us about your first anaconda contact in the wilderness.
My first anaconda contact was not a very interesting story. I was down in the Aro River, fishing some Cichla from the river bank when all of a sudden I saw the snake passing underwater right in front of my feet. To a 13 year old city boy that was incredible. A better anaconda story was when I found a small anaconda in an expedition with George Fear.

I was videoing some fish underwater with my right hand behind me, anchored to the Morichal Largo river bed sediment. All of a sudden I feel something sticky, sucking on one of my fingers. I got scared and turned around and there, where my hand was, was a small Anaconda about one meter and a half long. I took a look at my hand to see if I was missing a finger. Once I realized that they were all there, I looked back at the Anaconda which started fleeing to the river bank. I took my head out of the water and called George which was a bit down the river. Once George arrived I told him I wanted to capture the anaconda, let it loose in front of the video camera and then video it swimming. As a great fish guy, he was not afraid and a minute later, we captured the anaconda. Once I grabbed the anacondas head, it twirled around my arm and started constricting it. It was small so the pain was bearable, what was not bearable was its defense mechanism. I was trying to get out of the river with my hand up in the air, anaconda wrapped around my arm, all of a sudden the anaconda pooped. The feces was an oily, watery yellow substance that smelled like decomposing fish and feces. The feces slid down my arm and into my short sleeve wetsuit.  So, there I was, anaconda in hand, George probably laughing at the stench. We untangled the snake and put it in a bag. I prepared my camera and got into the river. George let the snake out of the bag from the river bank. The snake was an Oscar winning actor and swam gracefully in front of the camera. For me the memorable part was the oily substance smell never came off my wetsuit. It was hard to take it off my body too, but at the end we got the underwater shot.

 

Speaking of interesting nature encounters, how about that piranha bite from your YouTube video. Where were you exploring at that time?
LOL! Opening a piranha’s mouth using your finger was something I learned from George Fear. I saw him doing it once and it seemed super cool so I started doing it, too. After years of doing this I really got good at it. Of course, I did not practice the crazy deed with large Serrasalmus rhombeus or any sized Pygocentrus cariba, for those I used the blunt edge of a knife or the curved part of a fishing hook. Pulling down the lip and mandible with the finger is so helpful and convenient when shooting video without a tripod or alone in the bush. You hold the video camera with one hand and with your free hand you hold the specimen and open its mouth at the same time. If you take a close look at that video, you will notice that the Serrasalmus elongatus bit my index finger, not the ring finger I was using to open its mouth. There are actually two videos where I got bitten by piranhas on YouTube. The other one is less famous because there is less blood.

Ivan Mikolji and Kenia Sandoval preparing for a nature photo shoot in the wild.
Underwater natural aquatic garden aquascape. Amazonas, Venezuela.

How many aquariums do you have at home and do you have a favorite one?
I have about 5 dry aquariums. None of them have water or hold fish. They are of different sizes and only get filled up for taking video, photographs, or for the Wild Aquarium shows. I travel too much and for extended periods of time to be able to keep any plant or animal in a humane way.

I do have near future plans to fill up the aquarium I use for the Wild Aquarium Shows to start the aquarium interest in my kids. I will probably take them to catch some wild guppies in a stream nearby.

 

One of our popular questions now. If you could have only 3 aquariums, which biotopes would you create?
Easy question to answer…

1. Atabapo River main channel ecosystem aquarium with a couple of big, super duper, king kong, sized Pterophyllum altum, black water, very fine silica sand, black thin drift wood and one small pleco.
2. Amazonas Morichal Stream habitat: Clear water, course silica sand, a lot of leaf litter, very low light and a LARGE amount of cardinal tetras.
3. My dream one! Roraima Tepui base microhabitat: slightly black water, lots of light, thin layer of fine super white silica sand with large amounts of “bricks” or slabs of rough straight edged pink granite rock of all sizes placed flat one on top of each other creating a slant, low water level with strong current, many punk plecos (Neblinichthys roraima) and one Crinicichla sp aff alta. WOW!

 

How did you and George Fear meet? Tell us more about “Fish Guys”, how it started and what are your future plans?
I met George Fear when I used to have a fish breeding and exporting fish business called Mikofish. At that time I had over 300 “wet” aquariums and over 70, 800L tanks. We changed about 10 to 15 thousand liters of water a day. My fish breeding and exporting “era” is another great but long story.

George was the “piranha” client who’s orders contained 90% of piranhas and the other 10% were mean predators like Hoplias aimara. One day he asked me if I knew where to fish big peacock bass and piranhas and if I would be willing to take him. I took him on a trip and he was immediately hooked on what I did. On the next trips, he dropped the fishing rod and grabbed a mask and video camera. He also has the fish discovery itch and is the most agile person I know with a hand net.  George has a true aquarist heart and spirit. In the wild, he is low maintenance, never complains about anything, all criticisms are constructive. He eats almost everything that is placed in front of him and knows how to follow instructions, when required. To put it in a few words, he is a natural Fish Guy. At the moment, we have many plans and no time to execute them.

Ivan Mikolji with Jibi Indiands in the Venezuelan Amazonas.
Orinoco River 814

Are there any anecdotes from “Fish Guys” trips that you could share with us? Surely you have an interesting story no one has heard about so far.
In the middle of the Fish Guys Expedition 3 which up to this moment only has two episodes uploaded to the web, I get stuck in quicksand. Yes, quicksand does exist! I had never encountered quicksand before. Although I was not in imminent danger of dying, I really see how this could be a very dangerous situation for less patient or bush knowledgeable people. If I was alone, running away from a sudden flood on that river, I would have drowned on the spot. If I was an impatient person, I could have fractured one or many bones or sunk until my chest, where I could not have been able to breathe or get out. Quite scary to think about.

 

Besides you and George Fear as “Fish Guys”, do you ever take other people with you on exploration trips?
Very rarely, most of our exploring is too dangerous. We are truly exposed to serious car accidents, being mugged, carjacked, crooked authorities, guerilla, breaking a bone, being attacked by crocs, bitten by poisonous snakes, mosquito transmitted diseases, severe ear infections, piranha bites, getting tangled underwater, tetanus, dehydration, quicksand, falling off a cliff, dysentery, and most of all, improvisation.

We are always exploring, looking for clear water or other stuff we find interesting. If we do not find what we are looking for where we planned to go, we simply change the plan and go somewhere else.  We could plan to swim in a specific river and wind up in the other side of the country climbing a waterfall or dancing with Indians.

 

If there would be a possibility one day, would you mind an Akvarij.NET team joining you on one of the occasions?
I would not mind at all. You are very welcome to come. I will show you things you will never ever forget.

Have you heard about AkTer Fest before being a judge in biotope section of our “Croatian Aquatic Contest”? What do you think of it?
I actually did not know about AkTer Fest until I found a link on the web. The whole concept is genius. I felt extremely proud and honored being a judge. My father was Croatian, born in Zagreb and I have my Croatian citizenship, as well. I hope to be able to go some day and be there in person. It would be so interesting to see how each contestant recreates their aquarium. Meeting, talking, sharing knowledge and spending time with fellow aquarists has to be the most important part of the hobby, right? For me it is.

Mr. Mikolji, thank you for the interview and we hope to see you in Croatia on AkTer Fest soon.

October 19, 2014

Gospodine Mikolji, dobrodošli na Akvarij.NET,
Hvala Vama što ste me ugostili na vašim stranicama.

Rođeni ste u Caracasu, u Venezueli 1972. godine. Možete li nam reći nešto više o svojem djetinjstvu, kakav je bio mladi Ivan, što je želio biti kada odraste?
Jasno se sjećam da me je majka svako jutro vozila u Caracas u školu. Promet je bio očajno spor, auto do auta. Tada sam imao 5 – 6 godina i svaki dan smo se vozili preko mostova, prelazeći puno malih potoka. Jasno se sjećam da sam ih promatrao sa puno zanimanja i uvijek sam želio izaći iz auta te se spustiti do njih da vidim koje sve životinje žive u njima. Izgledale su mistično kao da imaju puno tajni, a ja sam ih doživljavao magičnim stvorenjima.Kao dijete nikada nisam znao , a niti sam razmišljao što ću biti kada odrastem, ali nikada nisam htio biti u učionici. Uvijek sam htio biti vani, penjati se po drveću, planinariti ili tražiti kristale kvarca u planinama ili iza škole. Nikada nisam mogao na miru sjesti i napraviti domaću zadaću, ali zato sam mogao provesti sate gledajući u akvarij i čistiti ga. Od kad pamtim, mi smo uvijek doma imali akvarij.

Kako vrijeme prolazi i stvari se u životu mijenjaju, na prvo mjesto dolaze i neki prioriteti. Jedan od krucijalnih trenutaka u mom životu se dogodio kada sam pročitao knjigu Karl Weidmanna „Relatos de un Trotaselvas“. Ista je prevedena i na njemački jezik i može se naći pod naslovom „Heiter bis bewölkt“. Ta knjiga mi je pokazala da je moguće postati veliki istraživač ako to stvarno želiš. Isto tako naučila me  ako se piše iz srca, čitatelj se može osjećati kao da je sa vama u tom trenutku i proživljava ga. Karl Weidmann je definitivno osoba kojoj se divim i pročitavši samo par poglavlja te knjige, shvatio sam i znao, da je istraživanje rijeka ono što sigurno želim raditi u budućnosti.

 

Što Vas učinilo istraživačem kakav ste danas, te kada i zašto ste odlučili raditi ono što danas radite?
Oduvijek sam volio prirodu. Mnogobrojna putovanja koja sam imao kao dijete u udaljena područja usadila su krajolike, mirise i ostale predivne stvari u moja sjećanja, koja nikako ne mogu zaboraviti. Sjećam se da sam odlazio u šumu bez roditelja, noseći sa sobom samo rižu i patrone za sačmaricu (lovačka puška). U šumi sam jeo samo ono što sam ulovio ili upecao. Jako puno vremena u svom životu proveo sam, odnosno od svoje 12 godine života, u istraživanju udaljenih područja da bih o tome trebao napisati knjigu koja bi uključivala sva moja sjećanja i susrete koja čak uključuju duhove, vračeve i proroke.
Jedan od presudnih trenutaka, što se tiče istraživanja, je bilo putovanje sa Oliverom Lucanusom iz Below Water-a. To putovanje je u principu bilo za mene buđenje. Oduševila me priroda, ribe, rijeke, vode, plivanje, istraživanje, znanost i posebno fotografija i film. Gledajući kako Oliver radi u divljini, natjerao me da sam shvatim kako ja mogu sve svoje interese spojiti u jedno. Pretpostavljam da puno ljudi ima slične interese, a Oliver ih je prezentirao pred mojim očima, te zbog toga sve dugujem njemu.

Istraživanje, nevjerojatne fotografije i dokumentarci iziskuju puno ljubavi i energije. Zanima nas opseg Vašeg posla, te čime se još bavite osim istraživanja i fotografije?
Moja arhiva do danas sadrži otprilike 196 934 slika i stotine sati podvodnih video snimaka. Kada bih objavljivao po 10 slika svaki dan na svoju Internet stranicu, trebalo bi mi otprilike 53 godine da ih sve objavim.
Svoj „posao“ fotografiranja i video dokumentiranja započeo sam još 2005. godine. Tada sam slikao i snimao samo ribe. Malo po malo nakon toliko ekspedicija počeo sam shvaćati kako je sve u prirodi međusobno povezano. U tom trenutku, mislim da sam postao prijatelj sa prirodom. Sada umjesto da odjurim u rijeku i vidim koje ribe u njoj obitavaju, mogu ostati stajati na obali rijeke, osvrnuti se oko sebe i stvarno vidjeti što se nalazi ispred mene. Sada, kada dođem na lokaciju, automatski počinjem vizualno analizirati od abiotičkih komponenata pa sve do bentoskih sedimenata i to mi je dovoljno da se osjećam ispunjeno. Tako se novi svijet polako otvorio, te sada dokumentiram biome, ekosustave, staništa, mikro staništa, podvodne refleksije, divlje cvjetove, vodene biljke, mrave, kamenje, itd… sve to je postalo zanimljivo. Možda je sve to samo priprema, tko zna što sljedeće dolazi!
Kada nisam vani u prirodi, radim doma pišem članke ili knjigu koja nema kraja, radim na svojoj beskrajnoj internet stranici, objavljujem zalihe slika na youtube-u, te se brinem za svoju obitelj. Imam 3 prekrasne djece koja mene i moju ženu drže vrlo zaposlenima.

Reci te nam više o „Fundación Peces de Venezuela“.
Fundación Peces de Venezuela ili Ribe iz Venezuele je, odnosno bila je neprofitna organizacija koju sam ja osnovao. Bila je to zamisao prof. Antonia Machado-Allisona, sa ciljem da mom poslu dokumentiranja da „legalni“ status. U prošlosti, Venezuelanska vlada donijela je zakon koji je obavezao svaku tvrtku da plaća „porez za stimulaciju znanosti“ bilo kojoj osobi koja se bavi znanstvenim istraživanjem. Tako je prvi zadatak zaklade bio dobivanje tog novca od poreza koji su plaćale druge „prijateljske kompanije“ a bile su zainteresirane za naš rad. Taj bi novac bio iskorišten za plaćanje putovanja, opreme, Internet stranica i ostalih troškova. Mjesec dana nakon što je Fundación Peces de Venezuela osnovana, vlada je usvojila novi zakon vezan uz „porez za stimulaciju znanosti“. Porez se trebao plaćati direktno vladi te bi oni odlučili koga će sponzorirali. Naravno, mi nikad ne bi bili sponzorirani jer ribe nisu bile prioritet Venezuele. Mi smo odlučili potražiti vlastite sponzore koji bi bili spremni podržati naša istraživanja. Kreirali smo Internet stranicu za naše stručnjake te smo pozvali ostale znanstvenike i akvariste da nam se pridruže. Za otprilike mjesec dana pridružilo nam se puno ihtiologa, entomologa, akvarista, botaničara i ostalih entuzijasta koji su nam pomagali identificirati i katalogizirati slike različitih životinja i biljaka na našoj Internet stranici.
Ubrzo nakon toga, zaklada je postala jedan veliki san ispunjen optimizmom i nadom ali i dalje bez novaca. Par godina nakon otvaranja stvarnost nas je prizemljila i shvatili smo da je teško naći sponzore te smo odustali. To je bio jedan od mojih najvećih padova. Taj „pad“ me natjerao da opet nađem sebe kao pojedinca i krenem iznova kao ja, Mikolji. Ako vam ispričam sve priče koje su vezane uz traženje  donacija i sponzora, ne biste u njih vjerovali i vjerojatno bi vas navele da drugačije gledate na mnoge brendove koje danas koristite. Traženje donacija i sponzora koji bi promovirali naš posao bilo je očajno te se nadam da neću morati još jednom kroz sve to prolaziti.

Vaša zemlja je predivna. Da li ljudi iz Venezuele cijene ili uopće shvaćaju prostranstvo bioraznolikosti i ljepote prirode?
Ne, većina ljudi to ne cijeni, ne znaju ili ih nije briga o bioraznolikosti. Prioriteti su bazirani na osnovama. Očuvanje staništa flore i faune nisu na vrhu popisa prioriteta, čak štoviše uopće nisu dio bilo kakvih popisa.

Koje je Vaše najdraže prirodno mjesto u Venezueli?
Wow, to je stvarno teško pitanje. Postoji toliko nevjerojatnih mjesta. Mislim da je moje najdraže mjesto ono koje još nisam istražio. Teško je odabrati jedno mjesto, pa bih to ipak ovako podijelio:

  1. Najdraža ribolovna mjesta: brana Tamanaco , Guarico, Venezuela. Mjesto pod imenom Carpintero je jedno od najčarobnijih mjesta na kojima sam ikad bio.
  2. Najdraža mjesta za fotografiranje: Gran Saban (Izgubljeni svijet), Bolivar, Venezuela. Raznolikost podvodnih i nadvodnih tema u ovom području ne mogu se fotografirati u jednom životu. To je jednostavno raj za fotografe prirode.
  3. Najdraže mjesto u kojem se cijelo vrijeme osjećaš kao prva osoba koja ga istražuje: vrh vodopada Chaviripa, Bolivar, Venezuela. Sam vrh vodopada može se osvojiti jedino u kratkom periodu tijekom suhe sezone. Površina na vrhu slapova koja je poprilično velika nema nikakvih ljudskih tragova.Nema ni limenke, čepa… svaki riječni kutak kojim pođeš daje ti pomisao da ćeš naići na mistični grad El Dorado.
  4. Najdraže mjesto za istraživanje: bilo kada, bilo gdje, svugdje…

Koji je bio Vaš najdraži trenutak u otkriću riba?
Nisam puno otkrio što se tiče riba, najviše iz razloga što najčudnije ribe koje danas nisu otkrivene, nalaze se na mjestima koja su nedostupna ili su vrlo teška za fotografirati ili snimati.  Nove vrste rijetkih ribe najčešće se otkriju pomoću ribarskih mreža ili ručnih mreža. Ja skoro nikad ne koristim ribarske ili ručne mreže. Idem uokolo gledajući između biljaka, ispod srušenih drveća ili ispod nakupina lišća. Nove vrste riba ludog i čudnog izgleda žive zakopane ispod pijeska, ispod nakupina lišća ili u plitkim rijekama jakih struja. Jedan od tih rijetkih istraživačkih trenutaka bio je tijekom istraživanja jednog toka u Venezuelanskoj Amazoni. Bila je sezona kiše te se tok izlio i poplavio okolnu prašumu. Znao sam da plivam u „riječnom kanalu“ zato što je bio širok tok bez trupaca. Ja sam plutao na kakvih 3-4 metara iznad riječnog korita koje je bilo pokriveno gustim slojem nakupine lišća. Duboko sam udahnuo te potonuo na dno pokušavajući slikati makro slike Crenicichla, kojeg sam tamo vidio, koji je imao jako mala usta. Došao sam do dna, ravno legao na nakupinu lišća te odmah počeo tražiti ribe od 2 do 4 cm dužine. Odjednom, iz nakupine lišća odmah ispred mene izašlo je nešto električno zeleno. U tom trenutku mi je počelo ponestajati zraka. Ta čudna, žarko zelena riba izbacila je van samo dio glave. Riba od otprilike 2 cmpromjera podsjeća je na Crenicichla. Izronio sam na površinu da uzmem još zraka, brzo upalio fotoaparat i ponovo sam zaronio na dno. Nikad više se nije pojavila! Šta je to bilo? Ne znam ali sam siguran da je bilo nešto novo i uzbudljivo.

Recite nam o Vašem prvom kontaktu s anakondom u divljini.
Moj prvi susret s anakondom nije bio baš zanimljiv. Bio sam kod rijeke Aro, lovio sam Cichle sa obale rijeke kad sam odjednom ugledao zmiju u vodi kako prolazi ispred mojih nogu. 13-ogodišnjem dječaku iz grada to je bilo nevjerojatno. Bolja priča je bila kada sam pronašao malu anakondu u ekspediciji s Georgeom Fearom.
Snimao sam neke ribe pod vodom sa svojom desnom rukom iza sebe. Na taj način sam se usidrio u sedimentu koji je bio na dnu rijeke Morichal Largo. Odjednom sam osjetio nešto ljepljivo što je cuclalo jedan moj prst. Naravno preplašio sam se i okrenuo sam se u smjeru gdje je bila moja ruka. Imao sam što za vidjeti – bila je to mala anakonda  oko jednog i pol metra. Pogledao sam prema svojoj ruci da vidim da li mi nedostaje koji prst i kada sam utvrdio da su svi prsti na broju, podigao sam pogled opet prema anakondi. Anakonda je već počela bježati prema obali rijeke. U tom trenutku izronio sam iz rijeke, tek toliko da mi je glava bila iznad površine i dozvao Georgea koji je bio malo niže nizvodno od mene. Kada se George približio, izrazio sam mu svoju želju da snimim anakondu. Želio sam da ju pusti ispred video kamere i snimiti ju kako pliva. Kako je George odličan Fish Guy nije se bojao, te smo minutu kasnije ulovili anakondu. Kada sam ulovio anakondu za glavu, ona se omotala oko moje ruke i počela je stiskati. Obzirom da je anakonda bila mala, bol je bila podnošljiva, ali ono što je bilo nepodnošljivo to je njezin obrambeni mehanizam. Pokušavao sam izaći iz rijeke sa uzdignutom rukom u zrak oko koje je anakonda bila namotana. U tom trenutku anakonda je izbacila izmet koji je izgledao kao neka uljasto vodenasto žuta supstanca, koja je imala miris trule ribe i izmeta. Izmet je kliznuo po mojoj ruci direktno u kratki rukav mojeg mokrog plivačkog odjela. I tako, tu sam gdje sam – u ruci anakonda, a George se vjerojatno smijao zbog smrada. Konačno smo otpetljali anakondu sa moje ruke i stavili ju u vreću. Pripremio sam svoju kameru i vratio sam se u rijeku, a potom je George pustio zmiju iz vreće sa obale rijeke. Zmija je bila kao dobitnica Oskara za glumu, plivala je vrlo graciozno ispred kamere. Ono što je meni ostalo za sjećanje, je miris uljaste supstance kojeg se nisam mogao riješiti iz mojeg mokrog plivačkog odjela. Bilo ga je također teško skinuti sa mog tijela, ali smo na kraju dobili svoj podvodni snimak.

Kada smo već kod zanimljivih susreta, recite nam nešto o ugrizu piranje sa vašeg youtube videa. Gdje ste istraživali u to vrijeme?
LOL! Otvaranje usta piranji pomoću prstiju sam naučio od Georgea Feara. Vidio sam ga jednom kako to radi i izgledalo je zabavno pa sam i ja to počeo raditi. Nakon nekoliko godina radeći to, postao sam jako dobar u tome. Naravno nisam uvježbao takve lude podvige sa velikom piranjom Serrasalmus rhombeus ili bilo kojom Pygocentrus cariba. Za navedene vrste koristio sam zatupljeni dio noža ili zakrivljeni dio udice. Povlačenje donje usne i vilice s prstom je vrlo korisno i praktično kada se snima video bez tronošca ili kad si sam u divljini. U jednoj ruci se drži video kamera dok sa slobodnom rukom držiš primjerak i istovremeno otvaraš usta. Ako se pažljivo gleda video, primijeti se da me je Serrasalmus elongatus ugrizao za kažiprst a ne za prstenjak koji koristim za otvaranje usta. Inače na youtube-u postoje dva videa u kojima me ugrizla piranja, ali drugi je manje poznat jer je bilo manje krvi.

Koliko akvarija imate kod kuće i da li imate favorita?
Imam otprilike 5 suhih akvarija. Ni jedan nema vodu ni ribe. Akvariji su različitih dimenzija te se pune samo kada želim nešto slikati, snimati ili za izložbu Wild Aquarium. Razlog tome je to što puno putujem i izbivam od kuće na duže vrijeme pa ne mogu održavati biljke i životinje na humani način. U bliskoj budućnosti imam planove da napunim akvarij koji koristim za Wild Aquarium izložbu te na taj način zainteresirati svoju djecu za akvaristiku. Najvjerojatnije ću ih povesti da ulove divlje gupije  u obližnjem potoku.

A sada jedno od naših popularnih pitanja. Ako bi mogli imati samo 3 akvarija, koje biotope bi vi složili?
Na to pitanje je lako odgovoriti…

  1. Atabapo River ekosustav glavnog kanala sa parom velikih, super duper, king kong veličine Pterophyllum altum, crnom vodom, jako finom granulacijom silika pijeska, crnim tankim zaobljenim drvetom i jednom malom pleco ribom.
  2. Amazonas Morichal Stream stanište: čista voda, silika pjesak, puno stabljika od lišća, slabo svijetlo i VELIKA količina cardinal tetri.
  3. I na kraju moj san! Roraima Tepui čija je baza mikro stanište: neznatno crna voda, puno svijetla, tanki sloj super bijelog silika pijeska sa velikom količinom „cigli“ ili ploča ili grubog rozog granitnog kamena sa ravnim rubovima. Različitih veličina postavljenih ravno jedan na drugi i na taj način da kreira nagib plitke vode sa jakom strujom. Od riba stavio bih puno punk plecosa poput Neblinichthys roraima i jednu Crenicichla sp aff alta.  WOW!

Kako ste se Vi i George Fear upoznali? Recite nam nešto više o „Fish Guys“: kako je sve počelo i kakvi su vam planovi za budućnost?
Georga Feara sam upoznao kada sam imao ribe za razmnožavanje i kada sam imao tvrtku za izvoz riba pod nazivom „Mikrofish“. U to vrijeme imao sam preko 300 aktivnih akvarija i između ostalog preko 70 akvarija većih od 800 litara. U jednom danu znali mijenjali smo između 10 i 15 tisuća litara vode. Da, moja „era“ sa razmnožavanjem i izvozom riba je još jedna sjajna ali dugačka priča.
Georg je bio „piranja“ kupac čije su narudžbe bile takve da su sadržavale 90% piranja, a ostalih 10% narudžbe činili su opaki predatori poput Hoplias aimara. Jednog dana me pitao da li znam na kojoj lokaciji se mogu uloviti veliki primjerci paunskog grgeča i piranje, te da li sam voljan povesti njega sa sobom. Naravno, poveo sam ga sa sobom na put i on se odmah navukao na ono što ja radim. Na sljedećem putovanju, odložio je ribolovni štap sa strane i zgrabio je masku za ronjenje i video kameru. On ima ono nešto za otkrivanje riba i također je najspretnija osoba sa ručnom mrežom koju poznajem. George ima pravo akvarističko srce i dušu. U divljini ne zahtjeva puno, nikad se ne žali na ništa i sve njegove kritike su konstruktivne. Jede gotovo sve šta se stavi ispred njega te zna slijediti upute kada je to potrebno. Ukratko on je jednostavno rođeni Fish Guy. U to vrijeme imali smo puno planova ali malo vremena da ih ostvarimo.

Da li imate bilo kakvih anegdota sa putovanja Fish Guys koje možete podijeliti s nama? Siguran sam da imate interesantnih priča za koje do sada nitko nije čuo.
Na polovici ekspedicije koja se zove Fish Guys Expeditions 3, koja do ovoga trenutka ima samo dvije epizode objavljene na Internet stranici, ja sam zapeo u živom pijesku. Da, živi pijesak stvarno postoji! Do tada se nikad nisam susreo sa živim pijeskom. Iako nisam bio u bliskoj smrtnoj opasnosti uvidio sam kako bi ovo moglo biti vrlo opasna situacija za ljude koji imaju malo strpljenja ili za one koji slabo poznaju divljinu. Da sam bio sam i da sam bježao od iznenadne poplave na toj rijeci, ja bih se na mjestu utopio. Da sam nestrpljiva osoba mogao sam slomiti jednu ili više kosti, ili sam mogao potonuti do prsiju gdje više ne bih mogao disati ili se iz toga izvući. Prilično strašno kada se o tome razmišlja.

 

Osim Vas i Georgea Feara kao Fish Guys, da li ikada povedete neku drugu osobu sa vama na istraživačka putovanja?
Vrlo rijetko zato sto su naša istraživanja vrlo opasna. Mi smo vrlo izloženi ozbiljnim opasnostima poput: automobilske nesreće, pljačke, automobilske otmice, korumpirane vlasti, gerili, raznim lomovima kostiju, napadima krokodila, ugrizima otrovnih zmija, bolestima koje prenose komarci, ozbiljnim infekcijama uha, ugrizima piranja, možemo se zaplesti pod vodom, tetanusu, dehidraciji, živom pijesku, padanj niz litice, dizenteriji, a ponajviše od svega improvizaciji. Mi stalno istražujemo, u potrazi za čistom vodom ili drugim stvarima koje smatramo interesantnima. Ako ne nađemo šta tražimo tamo gdje smo planirali otići, jednostavno promijenimo plan te odemo negdje drugdje. Mi možemo napraviti plan da ćemo plivati u određenoj rijeci, a na kraju ćemo završiti na drugoj strani države penjući se po vodopadu ili plešući s Indijancima.

Ako bi se jednog dana pružila prilika, da li bi Vam smetalo da se tim Akvarij.NET-a pridruži Vama na jednoj od prigoda?
Ne bih imao ništa protiv. Vi ste uvijek dobro došli da nam se pridružite. Pokazat ću vam stvari koje nikad nećete zaboraviti.

Da li ste čuli za AkTer Fest prije nego što ste postali sudac u biotopskom odjelu za naš „Croatian Aquatic Contest“? Što Vi mislite o njemu?
Zapravo nisam znao za AkTer Fest sve dok nisam našao link na internetu. Cijeli taj koncept je genijalan. Osjećao sam se vrlo ponosno i počašćeno što sam sudac. Moj otac je bio Hrvat, rođen u Zagrebu tako da i ja imam hrvatsko državljanstvo. Ja se nadam da ću jednog dana moći otići tamo osobno. Bilo bi vrlo zanimljivo vidjeti kako svaki sudionik ponovno stvara svoj akvarij. Susreti, razgovori, razmjena iskustva i znanje, te provoditi vrijeme sa kolegama akvaristima mora biti najvažniji dio ovog hobija, zar ne? Za mene to je.

Gospodine Mikolji, hvala Vam za ovaj intervju i nadamo se da se vidimo u Hrvatskoj vrlo brzo.

Intervju vodio:
Neven Vorkapić