Keeping Malawi cichlids which are also known as African or Rift Valley Cichlids is reasonably easy although they are not a community fish so you can only keep them with others of their kind. There are two main genus of Malawi cichlids both of which require different enviroments which is something that you should concider when choosing your cichlids.
The first genus are known as Mbuna which includes some of the following species, Pseudotropheus, Cynotilapia, Labeotropheus, Labidochromis, Melanochromis. These are the smaller rock dwellling Malawi cichlids that require a tank with a built up rocky enviroment as they use caves not only for breeding in but to use as boundery markers to mark their territory. Caves also provide shelter for the less dominant males and females that need to get out of the way from the more aggressive dominant male.
When keeping Mbuna you will notice that one of them becomes more aggressive, more dominant than the others, this is normal as every Mbuna tank has a dominant fish which can be male or female but is usually a male. He will decide which cave he wants and how much tank he wants and then fight to defend this. The reason for this aggressive behaviour amongst Malawi cichlids is all to do with breeding malawi cichlids.
The exception to the rule when keeping Mbuna is overcrowding. You do this so that when the dominant fish starts to chase another which manages to get away and hide he will then begin to chase a different fish and forget which one he was originally chasing thus taking the pressure from the first one and so on.
The second type of genus are known as Haplochromis which include some of the following species, Haplochromis, Copadichromis, Aulonocara, Nimbochromis, Protomelas. These larger Malawi cichlids require plenty of open space with just a few bolders or rocks scattered on the floor of the tank. They are not concidered to be aggressive nor do they use caves for breeding, instead they breed in the open waters on a rock or bolder or some males will even dig a pit in the sand. You do not overcrowd these larger Malawi cichlids as they are not territorial so seldom fight for territory but they do need a larger tank providing them with open waters.
When keeping any type of Malawi cichlids it is important that you keep an eye on your PH levels. Malawi cichlids prefer PH levels from 7.4 - 8.6 and you may notice a change in charactor and colour if the PH levels drop. It is also better to use a sandy substrate rather than gravel as this gives the fish a more natural enviroment which in return allows you to see their natural behaviour. It is not recommended that you use plants in a Malawi cichlid setup as they are not native to these cichlids but in the wild you will see giant vallis around the lake where the larger open swimmers live.
There is also a difference in quality of these fish which is sometimes noted along side their name. Tank bred fish usually means that the fish have been bred by a hobbiest and then sold to a shop or breeder. ETB or europeon tank bred means that they have been bred by an experienced breeder somewhere in europe and or may have been imported from a good source.
Then there are F1 fish which means first generation from wild caught, these are usually good quality and can be bred by anybody with a wild pair but you can not be sure that they are F1 unless you see the parents. Finally there are wild caught malawi cichlids which are the best quality as they have been caught straight from the lake and imported but these fish may sometimes have problems settling into a tank so they need extra care and attention. Prices will vary from tank bred to wild caught but so will the colours.
Finally when keeping these cichlids more so with the Mbuna is that if you keep more than one male of the same Species for example, 2 Pseudotropheus Zebra, once they have reached breeding age they will fight until one of them backs down and has to put up with being constantly bullied or even killed by the other male. This is all for breeding purposes so either keep one male of each species along with two or three females or keep just females. If you find you have got two males then it is always best to rehome one so that he can show off his true colours with his own female.
Photograph Provided by www.african-cichlid.com, copyright unknown.