The Kenyi Cichlid is easy to please as long as its requirements are met, making it a great fish for a Malawi cichlid tank!

The Kenyi Cichlid Maylandia lombardoi (previously Pseudotropheus lombardoi) is a beautiful zebra-barred African cichlid. It is a moderately large, aggressive Mbuna from Lake Malawi. In the wild it will reach up to 5 inches (12.7 cm) in length, but can get even larger in the aquarium.

This fish belongs to a group of cichlids called Mbunas. There are 13 genera full of very active and aggressive personalities of Mbuna cichlids. The name Mbuna comes from the Tonga people of Malawi and means “rockfish” or “rock-dwelling”. This name aptly describes the environment these fish live in as opposed to being open water swimmers like the Utaka cichlids and other “haps”. Other common names this fish is known by are Lombardoi Cichlid, Kennyi Cichlid, Blue Kenyi Cichlid, Golden Zebra Cichlid, Kenyii, Metriaclima lombardoi (now considered an invalid scientific name), Pseudotropheus lilancinius (an incorrect scientific name but one that has historically been used in the hobby), and of course Mbuna.

The cichlid is unique among its kind because of its colors.The male and female look like two different species with the male having a bright orange base with faded dark bars and the female having a rich sky blue base with faded dark barring. These base colors are exactly the reverse of what is typically found in other Mbuna cichlids. Most Mbuna species have blue males and females that are yellowish.

Being one of the most pugnacious and aggressive of the Mbunas, this is a fish for the intermediate and experienced cichlid keeper. It is very belligerent, even the two inch juveniles have the desire and power to devastate smaller fish, such as feeder guppies. It is not a fish for a community tank but it can easily hold its own in a larger aquarium of mixed African Mbunas. Wild caught specimens are even more aggressive than captive raised fish.

The Kenyi easily adapts to prepared foods and will eat pretty much anything. They will even eat the algae in the tank so you do not need to buy a Plecostomus for algae control. They are best kept in a species specific tank unless they are kept with large Mbunas. In a large species tank, keep a group of one male and several females and provide lots of hiding places.

Scientific Classification


Kenyi Cichlid – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Intermediate
Aquarium Hardiness:Moderately hardy
Minimum Tank Size:50 gal (189 L)
Size of fish – inches5.0 inches (12.70 cm)
Temperature:76.0 to 82.0° F (24.4 to 27.8&deg C)


Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Kenyi Cichlid Maylandia lombardoi (previously Pseudotropheus lombardoi) was described by Burgess in 1977. They are found in Lake Malawi and though originally endemic to Mbenji Island and and Nkhomo reef, this fish has also been introduced to Namalenji Island.

This species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable (VU). Although it is endemic to Lake Malawi it has a very restricted range, otherwise it has no recognized threats at present. Other common names this fish is known by are Lombardoi Cichlid, Kennyi Cichlid, Blue Kenyi Cichlid, Golden Zebra Cichlid, Kenyii, Metriaclima lombardoi (now considered an invalid scientific name), Pseudotropheus lilancinius (an incorrect scientific name but one that has been used in the hobby), and of course Mbuna.

The genus Pseudotropheus was formerly used quite broadly for the large variety of Mbuna species in Lake Malawi. Recent revisions have split the genus Pseudotropheus into three sub-genera: Pseudotropheus Pseudotropheus, Pseudotropheus Tropheops, and Pseudotropheus Maylandia. These then became recognized as their own genera of Pseudotropheus, Tropheops, and Maylandia. There is some debate on the naming of this last genus, so some of these fish may be found described as either Metriaclima or Maylandia.

They enjoy depths of around 32 feet or more (10 m) in areas of sediment-rich substrates and can be found over muddy and sandy spots between rocks. Males will protect a pit in the sand that he will use as a nest, but juveniles, females and the non-territorial males are usually found in small groups or by themselves.

The Kenyi Cichlid will eat plankton in the water, though they primarily eat algae that they brush off of rocks. This algae is known as aufwuchs, which refers to tough stringy algae that is attached to rocks. “Loose” Aufwuchs can contain insect larvae, nymphs, crustaceans, snails, mites and zooplankton.

  • Scientific Name: Maylandia lombardoi
  • Social Grouping: Varies – Mature males are found defending a territory with a pit nest, while all others, males, females and juveniles, will be found singly or in small groups.
  • IUCN Red List: VU – Vulnerable


The Kenyi Cichlid has the typical elongated, muscular Mbuna cichlid body, though the males seem to be a tad deeper than other Mbunas. In nature they will reach up to about 5″ (12.7 cm) in length, and are sometimes larger in the home aquarium. This cichlid can live up to 10 years with proper care.

The color differences between the male and female are opposite that found on most Mbuna species. The male Kenyi is a golden yellow with faint vertical bars, and has egg spots on the anal fin along with a lighter colored stomach area. The females are a purple to blue color with the same faint bars and lighter stomach area. Juveniles are similar to females, only smaller. All stages have faded vertical bars that have hints of color where they meet the dorsal fin.

All cichlids share a common feature that some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish have. That is a well-developed pharyngeal set of teeth that are in the throat, along with their regular teeth. Cichlids have spiny rays in the back parts of the anal, dorsal, pectoral, and pelvic fins to help discourage predators. The front part of these fins are soft and perfect for precise positions and effortless movements in the water as opposed to fast swimming.

Cichlids have one nostril on each side while other fish have 2 sets. To sense “smells” in the water, they suck water in and expel the water right back out after being “sampled” for a short or longer time, depending on how much the cichlid needs to “smell” the water. This feature is shared by saltwater damselfish and cichlids are thought to be closely related.

  • Size of fish – inches: 5.0 inches (12.70 cm) – It typically reaches 5″ (12.7 cm) in length, but is sometimes larger in home aquaria.
  • Lifespan: 10 years – This cichlid can have a lifespan of up to 10 years with proper care.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

This is a good fish for both the intermediate and experienced cichlid keeper. It is an aggressive cichlid, and not a community tank specimen. It cannot kept with fish other than cichlids. The aquarists must be willing to do frequent water changes and provide appropriate tank mates. It is susceptible to Malawi bloat as well as the typical diseases that effect all freshwater fish if the tank is not maintained. In the proper setup it will easily adapt to prepared foods, breed readily, and the juveniles are easy to raise as well.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate

Foods and Feeding

The Kenyi Cichlid is an omnivore that feeds primarily on algae in the wild, but also ingest plankton as well as aufwuchs, which contain tiny bentic organisma including crustaceans, invertbrates and some zooplankton. In the aquarium they will accept frozen or live brine shrimp, mysis, high quality flake, pellets, spirulina, and other preparations for omnivore cichlids. They also enjoy bloodworms, live feeder guppies, and daphnia. Their diet can also be supplemented with vegetable foods such as spinach, zucchini, and peas.

It is always better to feed them small amounts several times a day instead of one large feeding. This keeps the water quality higher for a longer period of time. Of course, all fish benefit from added vitamins and supplements to their foods.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Vegetable Food: Half of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Daily – Offer several small feedings a day, what they can eat in about 3 minutes or less, rather than a single large feeding.

Aquarium Care

Malawi Cichlids will deteriorate under poor water conditions. Malawi bloat is a typical disease especially if their dietary needs are not met with quality foods. It is caused by too much protein matter.  As these are messy fish, do water changes of 10% to 20% a week depending on the bio load. If overstocking is used as a form of aggression reduction, care should be taken to do several partial water changes a week.

  • Water Changes: Weekly – Water changes of 10-20% weekly are suggested, depending on the bio load. If tank is overstocked than several partial changes a week are recommended.

Aquarium Setup

The streams that flow into Lake Malawi have a high mineral content. This along with evaporation has resulted in alkaline water that is highly mineralized. Lake Malawi is known for its clarity and stability as far as pH and other water chemistries. It is easy to see why it is important to watch tank parameters with all Lake Malawi fish.

Rift lake cichlids need hard alkaline water but are not found in brackish waters. Salt is sometimes used as a buffering agent to increase the water’s carbonate hardness. This cichlid has some salt tolerance so can be kept in slightly brackish water conditions. However it not suited to a full brackish water tank. It can tolerate a salinity that is about 10% of a normal saltwater tank, a specific gravity of less than 1.0002.

A minimum of 50 gallons is recommended for for a male and several females. An even larger tank would be needed if mixing them with other Mbuna. They do fine in either freshwater or brackish freshwater but need good water movement along with very strong and efficient filtration. Gravel makes a good substate and the addition of crushed coral can help keep the pH up. A very slow acclimation to different pH levels can sometimes be achieved. Crushed coral or aragonite sands do tend to dissolves easier than salts. Keeping a higher pH however, means that ammonia is more lethal, so regular water changes are a must for these fish.

The Kenyi Cichlid needs a lot of rock work for shelter and territories. Some open space is appreciated as well. Like other Mbunas, they may dig so make sure the rocks sit on the bottom of the aquarium not on the substrate. Arranging the rocks in a manner to make “territories” will help ease aggression.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 50 gal (189 L) – A minimum of 50 gallons is the suggested for one male and several females, but a larger tank is needed for a mixed group of Mbunas.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
  • Temperature: 76.0 to 82.0° F (24.4 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Range ph: 7.8-8.6
  • Hardness Range: 10 – 15 dGH
  • Brackish: Sometimes – Salt is not found in their natural environment, but they do have a slight tolerance, keep levels below 10% – a specific gravity of less than 1.0002.
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: Middle – These fish will swim in the middle and bottom areas of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

The Kenyi Cichlid is not considered to be a community fish. They are best kept in groups of one male and several females in a large tank. Males will attack and kill any other males of the same species in the tank. They are best kept in species specific tank. They can also be kept in a very large aquarium with other large Mbunas, just make sure to provide lots of hiding places. Do not put this fish with peaceful cichlids.

  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – They can be kept in groups of 1 male with several females, but 2 males will fight, usually to the death unless they are in a very large tank with plenty of territories.
    • Peaceful fish (): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Aggressive (): Safe
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat – is aggressive
    • Plants: Monitor

Sexual differences

Males are golden yellow and females are purple/blue with both having faded vertical bars on their body. Males have eggspots on the anal fin as well.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Kenyi Cichlid has been bred in captivity. This cichild is a mouthbrooder with the female laying the eggs and then picking them up in her mouth to be fertilized. It is thought that the egg spots on the males anal fin are to fool the female into thinking those are more of her eggs, resulting in her mouthing the male’s anal fin, thus stimulating him to release milt (sperm). She then takes the milt into her mouth resulting in the eggs being fertilized.

The female will carry about 50 eggs for 3 weeks. Fry can eat cyclopeeze, artemia, Daphnia and finely crushed flake. When they reach 2 inches they can be eat feeder guppies. Ample hiding places are needed to have success when breeding, giving females the opportunity to hide. See the description of how cichlids breed in Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Easy

Fish Diseases

Malawi bloat is a typical disease for the Kenyi Cichlid, especially if their dietary needs are not met with quality foods. They are susceptible to typical fish ailments, especially if water is stale and of poor quality and oxygenation. One common problem is Ich. It can be treated with the elevation of the tank temperature to 86° F (30° C) for 3 days. If that does not cure the Ich, then the fish needs to be treated with copper (remove any water conditioners). Several copper based fish medications are available for Ich. Copper use must be kept within the proper levels, so be sure to follow the manufacturers suggestions. A copper test also can be used to keep the proper levels. You can also combine increasing the temperature with an Ich medication treatment.

As with most fish they are susceptible to skin flukes and other parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), fungal infections, and bacterial infections. It is recommended to read up on the common tank diseases. Knowing the signs and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.


Kenyi Cichlids are usually found online at a moderate price for juveniles. They are also usually found in fish stores, though may be special ordered if you are willing to wait for them if they are out of season. When acquiring a Kenyi Cichlid, with all the different hybrids that have formed in captivity, there is no way to tell exactly what you are getting unless it is from a reputable dealer.



Featured Image Credit: Pavaphon Supanantananont, Shutterstock