New research, led by international conservation charity Zoological Society of London, published in Oryx today shows that Chinese giant salamander (Andrias davidianus) farms risk the extinction of wild salamander populations instead of supporting their conservation.
Researchers from ZSL and the Shaanxi Normal University, Xi'an, surveyed 43 farms in China and worked with the Shaanxi Province Fisheries Office to investigate the Chinese giant salamander farming industry. They found that, although only a decade old, the industry houses millions of animals and is a major contributor to the Chinese rural economy. The farming industry however, poses a number of threats to the Chinese giant salamander, but also has potential to benefit the species.
Wild salamanders are illegally poached to supplement farmed populations which often do not breed successfully. Farmed salamanders are traded across China and are kept in crowded conditions, both of which promote devastating disease outbreaks. Untreated wastewater from farms is discharged into local river systems, potentially spreading diseases to wild populations.
The Chinese giant salamander trade mixes locally-adapted genetic strains, making farmed animals unsuitable for future reintroduction to the wild.
Professor Andrew Cunningham, Professor of Wildlife Epidemiology at ZSL and lead-author of the paper, said: "The findings from our study identify measures that need to be taken to ensure the sustainability of Chinese giant salamander farming while also reducing threats to the remaining animals in the wild. With better farming practices, the Chinese giant salamander farming industry has the potential to benefit, rather than threaten, their conservation."
Chinese giant salamanders, the world's largest amphibian, are eaten as a delicacy in China. Their numbers have declined catastrophically over the past 30 years, largely due to overexploitation for food and habitat destruction. A rapidly growing number of farms, which supply salamanders for the restaurant trade, could be putting the future of this Critically Endangered species at risk.
Co-author Dr Samuel Turvey, Senior Research Fellow at ZSL, said: "We recommend complete separation of farmed and wild salamander populations, supported by the enforcement of existing legislation to stop the continued capture of wild individuals. Improved farming methods are required to remove any need to poach wild individuals, reduce disease risks to both farmed and wild salamanders, and to prevent genetic pollution of the wild salamanders."
Chinese giant salamanders are categorised as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List due to a drastic 80% decline in population over the last 30 years. This Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) species has been recognised as the number one priority for international amphibian conservation.
ZSL London Zoo is home to the UK's only Chinese giant salamander. Named after a project partner in China, 19 year-old Professor Wu measures over one metre in length and arrived in London at the end of November.
Cunningham et al. (2015) Development of the Chinese giant salamander Andrias davidianus farming industry in Shaanxi Province, China: conservation threats and opportunities, Oryx, http://ow.
Pan et al. (corresponding author S. Turvey) (2015) Using local ecological knowledge to assess the status of the Critically Endangered Chinese giant salamander Andrias davidianus in Guizhou Province, China, Oryx, http://ow.
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ZSL EDGE: Salamanders
The Chinese giant salamander is ranked second of more than 4,000 amphibians on the EDGE amphibians list, which prioritises Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) species for conservation attention.
Salamanders and ZSL
The Critically Endangered Chinese giant salamander is the world's largest living amphibian, reaching lengths of more than 1.8m. Chinese giant salamanders are culturally significant to the people of China but today they are threatened today by over-harvesting for human consumption. In China, salamander farming has been encouraged and is an important economic activity in some areas. Salamanders are hunted for luxury food markets and potentially to stock salamander farms.
The destruction and degradation of the streams and pools they inhabit are also having a negative impact on the remaining wild population. ZSL brought local and international stakeholders together in 2010, to provide the evidence base needed for Chinese giant salamander conservation and to develop a strategy for conserving wild populations of Chinese giant salamanders. ZSL and partners are also engaging with the salamander farming industry. This strategy is now being implemented by ZSL and partner organizations, the Kunming Institute of Zoology, Shaanxi Normal University and Guiyang University, with support from the Darwin Initiative. ZSL and partners are currently undertaking range-wide ecological and community interview surveys to establish the current distribution and threats facing wild Chinese giant salamanders and build an evidence base for long-term monitoring.
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Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity whose mission is to promote and achieve the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats. Our mission is realised through our ground-breaking science, our active conservation projects in more than 70 countries and our two Zoos, ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. For more information visit http://www.