Bangkok: Tiny, testy and eye-catching with a colourful fin plumage, the Siamese fighting fish was on Tuesday named Thailand’s national aquatic animal. Known in the West as a betta fish, the underwater brawler is popular in home aquariums for its iridescent body and many-hued tail. The government said in a statement that the cabinet greenlighted a proposal for the “fighting fish to be the national fish”, citing its historical and cultural significance.
It brings up feelings of nostalgia for older generations in Thailand — which changed its name from Siam in 1939. They remember a time when the fish were traded and sparred in childhood games. “Most Thais when they were young, especially in rural areas, caught the fish from canals and ponds,” Sakda Sihapat, a caretaker at the Siamese Fighting Fish Gallery in Samut Prakhan, told AFP.
The gallery is a 15-minute trip from Bangkok by boat across the Chao Phraya river — said to be the betta’s native swimming grounds. “You have to go to a really virgin swamp to find this fish, and there aren’t any anymore,” Sakda said. Thailand’s official national animal is the elephant.