Since childhood, Heiko Bleher followed his mother’s interest for fishes and plants. At the age of 4, his mother took him to Equatorial Guinea, in West Africa, at age 6, he went with her throughout Europe collecting plants and fishes. At age 7, his mother took him and her other 3 children to her adventurous exploration trip deep into the «green hell» of the of South American jungle, lived with natives, sampling new aquatic plant species, fishes and other animals during almost 2 years, from 1953 to 1955.
At the end of 1958, Bleher’s family settled permanently in Brazil and established a water-plant nursery and fish-breeding place in the jungle outside of Rio de Janeiro. In 1962, Bleher moved to the US and attended the University of South Florida, studying courses in ichthyology, biology, limnology, oceanography, parasitology and others. In this period Bleher combined his studies with work at Elsberry’s Fish Farm and at Gulf Fish Farm. Two years later, he returned to Rio to open his own company «Aquarium Rio» and started his research and collecting throughout Brazil. Bleher first opened several compounds in the interior, others later in several parts of South America. At the end of 1964, he discovered the first new species to be named after him – Hemigrammus bleheri, the brilliant rummy-head tetra, one of the most widely sold aquarium fishes today. He also discovered the «Royal Blue», his first new strain of discus, now world famous along with many other species. Some years later, Heiko explored many new, unresearched areas in South America, travelling monthly into the most remote places. By 1967, he moved his company Aquarium Rio to Frankfurt am Main, Germany, returning monthly to Brazil and South America to collect.
In the 1970s he expanded his operations to include every African country, Asia and Oceania (Australia, New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Togo, Fiji, New Hebrides, Bougainville). Until the year 1997 he supplied wholesalers of ornamental fishes world-wide with new species (in 86 countries), including new discus variants and many new species every single year, most of them from his own discoveries. Between 1965 and 1997, besides introducing most of the wild discus variants into the hobby – directly or by means of the breeders – he introduced around 5,000 aquarium fish species he had discovered (or re-discovered). This includes some of those mentioned already but also unique colour variants of discus fishes such as «blue-headed Heckel Discus» from the Rio Negro and Rio Nhamundá regions from the 1960s to the 1990s, brown and red discus variants from the Alenquer region already begin of the 1970s, «Red-spotted greens» from the Brazilian Coari and Japurá regions and the famous «Rio Içá» discus from western Amazonia in the 1970s and 1980s.
Bleher contributed to the rainbowfish species community. Except for 3 or 4 well-known species before his field trips to Australasia in 1974, rainbowfishes were hardly known. And most of them came into the ornamental fish hobby and into public aquaria because of Bleher’s extensive research and field trips into the most remote areas of Australasia. He was able to introduce species Melanotaenia boesemani, M. lacustris and M. praecox (one of the most sold aquarium fishes today – all come from 13 specimens Bleher collected) and most of the other nearly 100 species of rainbow and blue-eyes fishes today known.
In 1970 he was the first to collect alive Pterophyllum altum from Venezuela, other firsts include many of the South American and most of the African dwarf cichlids (family Cichlidae), such as Nanochromis nudiceps, Nanochromis transvestitus, Nanochromis dimidiatus, and several Steatocranus species such as Steatocranus bleheri.
Bleher is known for his early collectings in the Indian Subcontinent, in India, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia and Indonesia. For instance, from India, one of the most colourful snakehead fishes, Channa bleheri goes to his account. But many other fishes known in science and hobby today are attributable to Heiko Bleher’s explorations, like a great number of the catfish families, such as species of the family Loricariidae (as many as 800, at the time of printing), as well the family Callichthyidae, like many new Corydoras species.
To his account, go species of the elephant fishes, knife fishes, puffers and flounders. One of his best-known discoveries was the first freshwater sawfish, known, in 1982, in a remote northern Australian lake, which later turned out to be a juvenile of a wellknown marine sawfish.
In 1965-1966 he rebuilt the Public Aquarium in Rio de Janeiro’s Jardim Botanico and has helped public aquariums around the world by consultations, doing research, collecting for them and helping in their development, as well as giving seminars on freshwater biotopes.
Since the 1970s, Bleher has given lectures and seminars around the world. In 2009 alone he had been invited to give 58 lectures on freshwater habitats, biotopes, biotope aquariums and correct decoration, about the incredible facts of man’s continuous destruction of freshwater habitats and demonstrated the daily extinction of freshwater species on a global basis.
Bleher made his first Discus-TV film, «Expeditionsziel Aquarienfische» with the German ZDF and made many TV appearances in different countries. His first Discus book was published in 1982. His first documentary film «The Wimpel Piranha» was made in 1983, followed by films on freshwater fishes in New Guinea, Australia, Central America and Brazil then four films on discus fishes in the 1990s.
Heiko Bleher is frequently invited to judge fishes (mostly Discus) in exhibitions world-wide. He also collaborated with and organized the first International Discus Show and Exhibition in 1986 in Tokyo, coordinated the first three Aquarama Exhibitions and Conferences held biannually in Singapore and many others.
Bleher is the founder of the new direction in the aquarium design, which is based on the principle of creating the authentic aquatic habitat in the aquaria. His intention is to give to the fish the same environment, as in nature – including the décor material, water plants (or none) and aquarium mates. This idea encountered a great interest among the developed aquarist and nature lovers. Bleher’s aim is to protect the aquatic fauna and to conserve it for future generations through aquarium breeding.
For his contributions to the aquarium hobby, Heiko was elected Man of the Year in England in 1993, and later in France. In 2009, he was elected Scientist of the year 2008 for his world-wide contribution to ichthyology by CAOAC. Recently (2010) he was awarded Fellow of The Explorers Club in New York. At the start of 2010, his expeditions in 166 countries had exceeded the 850 mark.