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Chester Zoo working with nuns in Mexico to save a rare breed of amphibian

By Amy Wall | Attractions | Published:

It's a story of scientists from a zoo working with nuns in Mexico to save a rare breed of amphibian.

Chester Zoo conservationists Gerardo Garcia and Adam Bland work with Mexican nuns to save a rare species of salamander

The Sisters of Immaculate Health rarely venture out of their monastery in the central Mexican town of Patzcuaro, however the group has become the most successful breeders of a rare form of salamander, known as axolotl.

And they have now teamed up with conservationists from Chester Zoo to develop a breeding programme.

The zoo, popular with Shropshire families, is home to six breeding pairs of the salamander, with a further 30 adults at the Michoacana University of Mexico and at a Mexican government fisheries centre, both located in south-west Mexico.

This forms part of an unusual collaborative long-term plan to re-introduce the animals back into the wild.

Salamanders once thrived in Lake Pátzcuaro, Mexico’s third largest lake, but are now listed as critically endangered due to water pollution.

Lake Patzcuaro Salamanders at Chester Zoo

The species, which is able to regenerate body parts including its brain, is of great importance to the locals who have lived alongside it for hundreds of years. The latest research has led to fears that fewer than 100 axolotl may remain.

Gerardo Garcia is the zoo’s Curator of Lower Vertebrates and Invertebrates. He said: “The Lake Pátzcuaro salamander is a very unusual species that is now perilously close to the edge of existence and requires immediate action if we are to establish more numbers and save them.

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“After visiting Mexico in 2014 we had the unique opportunity to meet the nuns who are keeping the species in their monastery and we now believe that the population they are looking after is one of the most genetically viable populations in the world.

Poor water pollution from surrounding towns and villages, has led to the animals becoming endangered. Researches said that by 2025 the species is expected to be extinct if nothing is done.

Gerardo added: “The nuns deserve enormous credit in keeping this species alive. Now, in partnership with the Sisters, a European network of zoos and the University of Michoacana in Mexico, we are fighting to breed a thriving population for eventual reintroduction back into the wild."

The animals are often harvested for medicinal purposes, as locals have a belief that they are a cure for respiratory problems and anaemia, as well as being used as a source of food.

Amy Wall

By Amy Wall
Trainee reporter - @AmyWall_star

Trainee reporter based at head office in Ketley, Telford.

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