The axolotl, a neotenic salamander, better known as the “Mexican walking fish” or “water monster,” may have disappeared from its only known natural habitat in Mexico City’s few remaining lakes. The axolotl is in “serious risk of disappearing” from the wild. says biologist Armando Tover Garza, of Mexico’s National Autonomous University.
These perpetually smiling creatures’ only natural habitat is the “Xochimilco network of lakes and canals – the “floating gardens” of earth piled on reed mats that the Aztecs built to grow crops.” According to National Geographic, “populations are in decline as the demands of nearby Mexico City have led to the draining and contamination of much of the waters of the Xochimilco Lake complex.”
“Growing up to a foot long (30 centimeters), axolotls use four stubby legs to drag themselves along lake bottoms,” and use their thick tails to swim in the water like mini-alligators, while feeding on aquatic insects, small fish and crustaceans. Once considered to be the chief predator in their habitat, the introduction of non-native fish, such as African tilapia and Asian carp, have caused this species to greatly suffer. These new fish have been eating the axolotls’ young, as well as their primary source of food.
The Mexican Academy of Sciences said in a statement “that a 1998 survey found an average of 6,000 axolotls per square kilometre, a figure that dropped to 1,000 in a 2003 survey, and 100 in a 2008 survey.”
As of 2010, wild axolotls were near extinction due to urbanization in Mexico City and consequent water pollution. They are listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as an endangered species, and on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) annual “Red List,” as critically endangered in the wild, with a decreasing population.
It can be safe to say that the reason that the axolotls are existing on the brink of extinction is directly a result of humans having almost entirely removed, and polluted the remainder of their habitat, with sewage, and non-native species. Scientists using them in research labs, aquariums holding them in captivity for entertainment and profit, and people killing them for food has also led to their potential demise.
Tovar Garza said, that “it is too early to declare the axolotl extinct in its natural habitat. He said that in early February, researchers will begin a three-month search in hopes of finding what may be the last free-roaming axolotl.”