Beneath the tourist gondolas in the remains of a great Aztec lake lives a creature that resembles a monster – and a Muppet – with its slimy tail, plumage-like gills and mouth that curls into an odd smile.
The axolotl, also known as the “water monster” and the “Mexican walking fish,” was a key part of Aztec legend and diet. Against all odds, it survived until now amid Mexico City’s urban sprawl in the polluted canals of Lake Xochimilco, now a Venice-style destination for revelers poled along by Mexican gondoliers, or trajineros, in brightly painted party boats.
But scientists are racing to save the foot-long salamander from extinction, a victim of the draining of its lake habitat and deteriorating water quality. In what may be the final blow, nonnative fish introduced into the canals are eating its lunch – and its babies.
The long-standing International Union for Conservation of Nature includes the axolotl on its annual Red List of threatened species, while researchers say it could disappear in just five years. Some are pushing for a series of axolotl sanctuaries in canals cleared of invasive species, while others are considering repopulating Xochimilco with axolotls bred in captivity.
“If the axolotl disappears, it would not only be a great loss to biodiversity but to Mexican culture, and would reflect the degeneration of a once-great lake system,” says Luis Zambrano, a biologist at the Autonomous University of Mexico, or UNAM. .. – az