A FISH STORY
By Jim E. Quarles.
Amazon Puzzle Solved:
? In relating this series of events I hope I am not putting tropical
fish culture at risk for the discus hobbyist. But certain dangers would
result by keep the secrets I am about to reveal bottled up any longer.
About three years ago I received a telephone call from a mid-level
government official whom I am even presently not allowed to name. This
individual works for the State Department of the United States, with his
office in Washington D.C.
This person just happens to be a big discus fan and breeder. I had met
this person at a fish show some years ago at a fish show in San Jose
We had kept in touch off and on via mail and E mail since that time.
Little did I realize what startling and strange information would result
from his casual friendship. I will simply refer to this person as Mr.
Charleston. To protect his life.
The telephone call came at ll:00 pm on a Friday night. He seemed
frightened and extremely nervous as I remember the call. It was the last
call I would get from him, he was found dead in a one car crash the next
evening. I found out later his brakes failed on a almost new car, which
resulted in his auto crashing into a power pole and caught fire.
When I received his call I started to ask him questions about his wife
and kids, his fish and hobby. But he quickly cut me off the subject. He
asked me if I could name someone I trusted 100% with a mail package he
wanted to send me. He did not want to send it direct to me. I said sure
but started to ask a few questions but he refused to say what was in the
package, he just told me to read it. I sent him the name of a close friend
who lived in Santa Barbara, California. He quickly hung up the phone
before I could ask any more questions. When I had asked him why he could
not send the information to me directly he said it is to dangerous for
both of us to handle it that way.
Well I was surprised and a little concerned at the end of our talk but
dismissed the whole event from my mind and by the next day other projects
claimed my time.
Looking back on things now I understand why he gave me the telephone
number of a paging service for his brother should I need to contact him
after reading the information he was sending. In no event was I to contact
him thought the agency.
I alerted my friend in Santa Barbara, California that he would soon
receive a package he was to forward it on to me without opening it. I will
refer to this person as Mr. Peterson which of course is not his real name
nor his location in Santa Barbara. When you hear the details to follow you
will understand why real names and locations could not be used.
I had met Mr. Peterson while I was hired by the C.I.A in Egypt in
1984-85 under the cover of working for Y-systems Inc. out of Dallas,
Texas. Our jobs were entirely different but we shared common living
arrangements with others at El Arish in the Sinai-desert near the border
Ten days after the strange telephone call a package arrived in the
regular mail. I opened it wondering just what all the fuss was all about
and feeling a little strange and not wanting to get involved in any more
C.I.A. or State Department projects.
When I opened The package I found another package sealed in side with a
note attached to its outside surface, also there were newspaper clippings
and some test results from the fish & game people In Peru. A few other
reports about water tests from the department of health in about four
locations within the Amazon river system that runs through Peru. I was
surprised all the information was written in English or translated by hand
writing into English.
The note on the second package simply stated do not open until you have
read all the other items supplied here with. Also the package had the
C.I.A. stamp on it which stated, Top Secret, with the notation provided to
only those with a need to know should see the documents.
Seeing this I knew someone was trying very hard to keep something from
the public or other governmental agencies. Typical C.I.A. practice, if
people don't know what you're doing they can not question the amount of
time, effort or money being spent on any given event or project.
The news item talked about young cattle being found dead face down in
the small creeks and feeder streams the feed into the mighty Amazon River.
Also noted was that this was happening at ever enlarging circles from the
first such find. The loss of cattle was first noticed in 1982, but little
was written about it. After all we are talking about one of the worlds
largest jungle areas.
At first the area was rather small and confined to a reasonable area
and limited loss of calves to yearlings.
What ever was causing the death of the young steers was not effecting
the full grown cattle in the same area.
After reading all this information, I wondered if Charles, my State
Department friend, had gone off the deep end. Why should this interest me
in the least?
I opened the package containing the biological and medical reports
prepared by both disease control office of the United Nations. Each report
was on about a specific where calves were found dead in fairly large
numbers over a five month time span in 1994-95 and the last dated report
was only three months ago.
By the time I had examined all the files I had spent six hours, so I
set aside the information and retired for the night.
The next three days were just to0 busy for me to get back to the
Charles papers. I had shipments of fish to pack and ship. I had
advertising to arrange and a ton of letters to attend to. So I think it
was about a week before I had time again to try to figure out just what
the Charles puzzle was all about.
When I was able to pickup where I had left off, I became aware of the
on site reports of local medical examiners. To state that the facts
reported were strange would be a vast understatement. In each reported
case of an animal's death there were no reported signs of injury or
disease. No signs of any kind of animal attack or fighting of any kind
where ever found. In all cases blood was noticed to drip from the nose and
mouth of the calves as they were examined. So what ever was attacking the
cattle had to be some sort of parasite or internal disease.
Samples of the lungs and mouth as well as brain were sent to the major
laboratories in Peru and the United Nations headquarters in New York.
When all the reports returned negative the field people were back to
ground zero. During the time span they were waiting for the reports to
come back more calves were found in the same condition up and down the
Then reports of other animals found in almost the same conditions began
to filter into the reports. Wild pigs, even monkey's that were found a
fairly good distance from the streams were being reported.
It became quite clear that the cause of these deaths had to be found
and some sort of control devised quickly.
With each passing day the number of dead animals were increasing in
ever widening circles from the point where the first deaths were reported.
While the total number of dead animals remained small it became clear that
what ever was doing the damage was increasing in numbers and gaining
ground in new places that had be unaffected just a few weeks before.
The first hint was found after entire dead animals were shipped out for
examination to the labs. In each case the animals had extreme lung and
heart damage. In most cases the entire heart was disrupted. The fat and
grizzle was more or less intact, but the lean meat was gone or very badly
damaged. The lungs in each case had small tiny holes in many places next
to the location of the heart it self.
This was something that was new to the area, nothing like it had ever
been eported before. It looked almost as if the heart had exploded,
sending bits and tiny particles of heart into the lung cavity. Also noted
was that the lungs were full of water and blood. Little notice of this was
made since the dead animals were almost always found in the streams in
Since no causative answer had been found, the only avenue left to be
explored was to the find something new in the native environment that
could explain it.
A quick study found nothing strange to report other than the heavy
populations of brown discus found in the streams and even the very shallow
creeks in the area.
The natives in the area kept telling the investigators something about
the fish in the area, but they paid little notice of their raving about
fish or fishing. With no new leads it was decided to ask help from
Environmental Research Center located about five miles from the major site
of the dead zone.
The center had been built with funds from a very rich American
Publisher to study the native fish of the area, to improve the capture
methods used to export ornamental tropical fish. and to culture those fish
under the most pressure brought about by the present exporting practice.
The actual culturing was mostly neon tetra's, angelfish and discus. But
a great deal of time had been spent since the center was built ten years
ago studying the basic environment and its affects on the food chain of
the river systems near by.
When the first calves were sent to the center, the experts were as
bewildered as everyone else had been to that point in time. But one
evening as the internal organs of the calves were being studied, Jaun
Garcia stopped by the lab for a cup of coffee.
Jaun was in charge of the angelfish and discus study department at the
center. I said while looking at the heart section on the table, "
Just like my little discus fishes! Dr. Hardly said what do you mean Jaun?
He answered, look all the lean part is gone, only the fat and grizzle is
left! Same as when I feed my fishes. They only eat the learn parts of the
beefheart I feed them.
With that clue and finding each animal with large numbers of discus fry
in the lungs it became clear what was happening.! The center had been
feeding hormoned beefheart to angelfish and discus for ten or more years,
some of the fish had been released back into the river systems when they
were no longer used for study.
Some how the fry had managed to swim into the calves nose and mouth
while it was drinking and attacked the lung enough to reach the calves
heart. The lungs then filled with water and the calves dropped into the
water, thousands of other discus fry then went to work on the heart. Most
were able to swim back out, but of course some never made it back to the
stream, these were the ones found in all the calves and other animals that
After a good deal of research the results were confirmed: discus fry
were killing the cattle.
AS OF THIS WRITING NO SOLUTION HAS BEEN FOUND OTHER THAN TO KEEP THE
CATTLE AWAY FROM THE SMALL STREAMS FEEDING INTO THE AMAZON.
To end this report it must be told that less then two weeks ago half a
dozen natives mostly children were found dead along feeder streams-the
heart of all was disrupted with only the fat and grizzle left.
NOW IF YOU BELIEVE THIS STORY YOU MUST BE A DISCUS KEEPER.