Axolotls are the World's Cutest Little Monsters, but They're Critically Endangered

Fagjun | Published 2017-03-11 07:50

Adorable axolotls have been fascinating pet owners and scientists alike, but they may soon go extinct in the wild.

Behind the adorable little face and frond-like protrusions on its head, the axolotl can be quite discomfiting. First of all, they are cannibalistic. Baby axolotls, despite looking completely innocent, cannot live in the same space. If they are in close proximity, there's a chance that they'll cannibalize each other.

Perhaps the most fascinating feature of the axolotl is its ability to regrow lost limbs. It can regrow appendages over a period lasting several months. Sometimes, a damaged limb may heal, but it regenerates anyway. The axolotl then ends up with two of the same limb. They can also regenerate some parts of their brain and even successfully receive eye transplants from another axolotl.

There are now only a handful of these fascinating salamanders per square kilometer of their natural habitat. They used to thrive in Lake Xochimilco and Lake Chalco in Mexico. Due to pollution and Mexico City's expansion, axolotl numbers dwindled quickly. More importantly, their natural habitats have all but disappeared. Lake Chalco was drained to avoid flooding and it now no longer exists. Lake Xochimilco, meanwhile, is now barely more than a network of canals.

Experts say that axolotls may go extinct in the wild by 2020.

Lake Xochimilco, where axolotls once thrived

Conservation Efforts for Axolotls

There have been efforts in conserving these salamanders since 1992. The Mexican government declared axolotl habitats as protected areas, but these efforts had not been very successful. Axolotl populations still grew smaller due to pollution from the city and the introduction of invasive species into their habitat.

It seems that the disruption of their habitat is the main driving force behind the endangerment of axolotls. They don't have trouble reproducing, even in captivity. However, reintroducing axolotls bred in captivity to their natural habitat isn't as easy. For axolotl populations to thrive again, their habitats need to be free of the things that impacted the species in the first place.

There is also the problem of keeping axolotls in captivity for too long before releasing them to the wild. They can lose inherent survival instincts and their gene pool can lose variation. Returning and thriving in their natural habitat is vital to the survival of the species.

Being quite adorable may save at least a small number of the axolotl population. People around the world are keeping these salamanders in aquariums as exotic pets. It is illegal to capture an axolotl from the wild, but it's legal to sell and keep them as pets. Of course, this is as long as a seller or owner can provide proof that the axolotl was bred in captivity.

Some say that domestication can aid in axolotl conservation. Domestication lessens the motivation to capture them from the wild. However, these domestic pets are not the same as axolotls living in and thriving in its natural habitat. Hopefully, conservation efforts will find a way to help axolotls thrive once again in the wild, not just in aquariums.

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