Ecologists at Mexico’s National Autonomous University have restarted a fundraising initiative to support conservation efforts for axolotls, a unique and threatened species of salamander.
The initiative, named “Adoptaxolotl,” requests a minimum of 600 pesos (equivalent to $35) for virtual adoption of a small “water monster.” This virtual adoption includes regular updates on the axolotl’s well-being. Donors also have the option to purchase a virtual meal for one of these creatures at a lower cost.
Scientists leading the fundraiser report that the population of Mexican axolotls (ah-ho-LOH’-tulz) in their primary habitat has drastically decreased by 99.5% within a period of less than twenty years.
The Adoptaxolotl campaign from last year was able to collect 450,000 pesos ($26,300) which went towards a captive breeding program and initiatives to revive the habitat in the historic Aztec canals of Xochimilco, located in the southern part of Mexico City.
However, Alejandro Calzada, an ecologist conducting a survey on lesser-known species of axolotls for the government’s environmental department, stated that there is inadequate funding for in-depth research.
“We do not have comprehensive monitoring of all waterways in Mexico City,” stated Calzada, the leader of a team of nine researchers. “This is especially insufficient for such a vast region.”
Although the axolotl has gained popularity, nearly all 18 species found in Mexico are still at risk of extinction due to increasing water pollution, a lethal fungus that affects amphibians, and the presence of non-native rainbow trout.
The National Autonomous University’s latest census shows that there has been a significant decline in the population of axolotls in Mexico. While in the past, 6,000 axolotls could be found per square kilometer, the current average is only 36. A recent international study also reported that there are less than a thousand Mexican axolotls remaining in their natural habitat.
Luis Zambrano González, a scientist from the university, has announced plans to conduct a new census in March. This will be the first census since 2014.
Zambrano stated that there is no longer any time to visit Xochimilco due to the overwhelming presence of pollution, such as soccer fields and floating dens. He expressed sadness over this invasion.
Without information on the quantity and geographical spread of distinct axolotl species in Mexico, it is difficult to determine their remaining lifespan and how to effectively allocate available resources.
Calzada stated that it is crucial for us to work quickly.
Axolotls are now a well-known symbol in Mexico due to their distinct, though somewhat slimy, appearance and impressive ability to regenerate lost limbs. Researchers in various laboratories believe that this regenerative ability may hold the key to tissue repair and potentially even cancer treatment.
Previously, conservation efforts by the government primarily centered on the Mexican axolotl, which is commonly found in Xochimilco. However, various other species can also be discovered throughout Mexico, ranging from small streams in the Valley of Mexico to the arid Sonora desert in the north.
The rapid growth of Mexico City’s urban areas has led to deterioration of water quality in its canals. The presence of rainbow trout, which have escaped from nearby farms, in the lakes surrounding the city can also cause harm to the native axolotl population by competing for resources.
According to Calzada, his team has noticed a growing number of axolotls dying from chytrid fungus, a disease that eats away at their skin and has caused widespread death among amphibians in Europe and Australia.
Academics depend on contributions and Calzada’s team relies on a group of volunteers, but the Mexican government has recently approved a decrease of 11% in funding for its environmental department.
During President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s six-year term, Mexico’s environment department will receive 35% less funding compared to the previous administration, as stated in a budget analysis for 2024.
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