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A Fish So Coveted People Have Smuggled, Kidnapped, and Killed For It

Emily Voigt | Scribner | July 18, 2016 | 4,498 words

The Asian arowana or “dragon fish” is protected by the Endangered Species Act and illegal to own in the U.S. But the tropical fish’s status symbol among wealthy buyers has made it the object of a thriving black market.

Posted inBooks, Featured, Nonfiction, Story

A Fish So Coveted People Have Smuggled, Kidnapped, and Killed For It

The Asian arowana or “dragon fish” is protected by the Endangered Species Act and illegal to own in the U.S. But the tropical fish’s status symbol among wealthy buyers has made it the object of a thriving black market.
Photo: Qian Hu

Emily Voigt | Scribner | May 2016 | 18 minutes (4,498 words)

The excerpt below is adapted from The Dragon Behind the Glass, by Emily Voigt. This story is recommended by Longreads editor Mike Dang.

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Taiping, Malaysia, May 11, 2004

Chan Kok Kuan still wasn’t home. Too worried to sleep, his father, Chan Ah Chai, stood at the window watching for a sign of his son through the blinding downpour. The rain had started at midnight and was still pummeling the ground at 4:00 a.m.—flooding the streets and overflowing the lakes in the public gardens, where the century-old saman trees stretch their massive canopies over Residency Road.

A wiry, exuberant man of thirty-one, the younger Chan was not the type to stay out late without calling. He had been home for dinner that evening, as usual, after working all day at the aquarium shop he opened a few years back. Even as a child, he had loved anything with fins. Now he was expert in one species in particular: the Asian arowana, the most expensive tropical fish in the world.

In Chinese, the creature is known as long yu, the dragon fish, for its sinuous body plated with large scales as round and shiny as coins. At maturity, the primitive predator reaches the length of a samurai sword, about two to three feet, and takes on a multihued sheen. A pair of whiskers juts from its lower lip, and two gauzy pectoral fins extend from its sides, suggesting a dragon in flight. This resemblance has led to the belief that the fish brings prosperity and good fortune, acting as a protective talisman to ward off evil and harm.

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