Published On: Sat, Dec 10th, 2022

Meet the Ajolotes, Mexico’s allies against climate change

Saving Xochimilco is not only the task of its inhabitants, but of all citizens who are concerned about the effects of climate change; its integral rescue can begin with one of the country’s unique species, the Mexican salamander. Saving the salamander is saving Xochimilco; and saving Xochimilco is saving Mexico City.

That is why the Ecological Restoration Laboratory has launched the international campaign “Adoptaxolotl” to raise funds that will be used in the conservation and rehabilitation of the ecosystem, where urbanization, exotic species and water quality are the main threats.

“For 20 years we have seen how the salamander has been disappearing from Xochimilco, which is a red flag that we have to take into account to begin to restore it, one of the forms of restoration that we have been developing with the chinamperos has been the chinampa-refugio project,” explained Luis Zambrano, researcher at the Institute and head of the research.

“Around the chinampa canals food is produced that in the future will be fundamental for the resilience of this city (of Mexico), around this chinampa a refuge can be generated from the great threats that the salamander faces,” he added.

According to the counts that have been carried out since before 2002, the year in which the research and rescue work formally began, in 1998 there were 6,000 salamanders per square kilometer; in 2004 they had dropped to 1,000; in 2008 to 100; and in the last census, done in 2014, there were only 36 endemic amphibians per square kilometer.

“We are on the verge of extinction of this salamander,” warns Dr. Zambrano.

There are 16 types of salamanders but the ambystoma mexicanum, according to its scientific name, is unique to the area of Xochimilco, south of Mexico City, so saving the ecosystem that ensures the life of the species will also give more life to Xochimilco and the beneficial effects it has for the country’s capital.

“The city depends on Xochimilco, both in temperature, it is a great temperature buffer, for example when it is cold like now, if it were not for Xochimilco it would be much colder and so when it is warmer; but not only that it cushions, also avenues in times of extreme rains and finally it is a great carbon sink,” said Luis, about the benefits of the area, key against climate change.

The work had been only with the chinamperos, even creating a chinampera label so that those who wish to buy products from chinampas with salamander refuges can be sure that they are buying from a producer endorsed by the UNAM. But this is not enough and more resources were needed, so the adoption campaign strategy was devised for lovers of this fascinating amphibian species.

“It is a project that seeks the adoption of salamanders virtually or the adoption of the salamander house virtually, if you donate 600 pesos you can adopt a salamander for a month, or you can adopt it for six months or a year, with this adoption you have the right to go to UNAM to know the colony and your own salamander,” said Zambrano about the program.

The monthly cost for adopting a chinampa-refuge is 1,000 pesos, although there is also the option of inviting the salamanders to a dinner for 200 pesos, the idea is that they add up to support conservation, and the researcher even suggests that several members of a family or a workplace join forces to pay for the adoption.

The procedure can be done at the web page restauracionecologica.org/adopciones or at the UNAM online store.

Whether adopting an axolotl or a chinampa-refugio, the adopter receives a registration card and can choose the name he/she wants for his/her axolotl; also a thank you letter, an informative poster of the axolotl and a page with stickers of the campaign.

The money that arrives is used to maintain the colony with a good quality of life, the system must be cool, that is, the room must be cold, between 17 and 18 degrees, so that the axolotls are not stressed by temperature, they must have good food, this means live animals and have enough space so that they can hide from stress.

The axolotl colony

There are 125 axolotls available for adoption, males and females, living in the Ecological Restoration Laboratory of the Institute of Biology of the UNAM.

Zyanya de Olarte is one of the three people in charge of maintaining the axolotls in the laboratory. The females and young specimens are kept in large tubs, while the males are separated in fish tanks to avoid uncontrolled or intrafamilial reproduction.

“All the ones that are here have blood or are descendants of wild salamanders from Xochimilco, so reproduction also helps to maintain them, and currently they are not yet taken to Xochimilco; there is a program that is being carried out with the chinampas that are being prepared to possibly release them”, explained the student.

All the specimens have identification chips to know their location, health, growth and reproduction. Zyanya does not recommend people to keep salamanders as pets because they are stressed by not having the right conditions to live in.

The salamander is a salamander, it is a neotenic species, which means that it never transforms into an adult, it can regenerate any type of tissue it has in its body.

“If it loses an arm because a predator ate it, it will grow back in less than a month, even if it loses an eye it can recover it and if it loses part of its brain it can also regrow, these characteristics can be very useful in terms of medicine,” explained Zambrano.

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