The UAE flag, as a signifier of patriotism, is often used in unusual ways. Not just in November and December, around National Day, but throughout the year. At the same time, exotic pets are extremely popular. A primary school teacher once told me that one of her pupils had asked whether she could bring her pet to class as part of her Halloween costume. The pet in question was a panther. There are many such stories, sometimes hilarious, sometimes bizarre, often terrible. So maybe I shouldn’t have been all that surprised when I came across this smiley-faced orange parrotfish, ‘decorated’ with a national flag, at my local pet shop. But I was.
Surprise immediately gave way to curiosity. I asked the shop assistant how the colour was applied and where the fish came from. When he told me that the flag was tattooed onto the fish in Malaysia, where all the shop’s fish originated, curiosity dissolved into a mixture of pity and disgust. Tattooing a fish sounded all wrong, painful and pointless.
parrotfish, a two-year-old specimen emblazoned with crude versions of the UAE
flag on both sides, was not the only tattooed fish in the shop. The shop
assistant said that they sold a handful of them a year and explained that the
paint lasted for two to three years.
As I found out since then, the sale of painted, tattooed, engraved or dyed fish is not new. It seems that since the 1980s, suppliers in Hong Kong, Singapore and other parts of Asia have been “producing” them for the Western aquarium hobby market. Last month, someone even filed a US patent for genetically enhanced “fluorescent transgenic ornamental fish”.
I still cannot decide what gets my goat more: that these fish are being to suffer just so that they can be used as living ornaments or that someone’s (anyone’s!) patriotism could be this ill-guided.