A new report shows that the iconic aquatic marine salamander known as the axolotl could be extinct by the year 2020. The critically endangered axolotl, which resides in waterways near Mexico City, is threatened by urban development and pollution destroying its habitat, as well as invasive species like tilapia competing for resources.
In recent years, the salamander species has sharply declined. While they originally lived in the lakes that filled the basin of Tenochtitlan where Mexico City was built, development has diverted and filled many of those waterways so that the axolotl's territory is much smaller. Despite some protections these areas instated in the 1990s, the species is still struggling.
The Aztecs are said to have revered axolotl, which breathes through external gills, and many in the Mexico City area still consider the unusual salamander to be culturally significant. One local farmer told National Geographic that “The legend goes like this, that when the axolotes [axolotls] are extinguished, we’ll be extinguished with them.”
Legend aside, scientists are working to save the axolotls before it's too late by breeding the species, while also working with locals to help provide new habitats to replace those that have been destroyed and polluted.
In order to achieve this, scientists are working with local farmers to revive an organic farming technique that lets farmers grow food on wetlands. The technique involves floating structures called chinampa, which NatGeo explains are made from aquatic vegetation and logs interwoven with mud from the lake bottom. These structures provide the ideal habitat for axolotls and have the added benefit of filtering water for Mexico City.
The effort is a crucial one to bring back axolotls from their dire situation. The video below from 2014 gives more detail about the unfortunate situation of the salamander population.
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