Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Giant Salamanders

The arrival of a 1.3 metre Chinese Giant Salamander at London Zoo reminds me that I found two very useful papers that pulls together what is known about these species. They were published in the online and freely-accessible publication, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, in 2012*.

The first giant salamander I saw was a Japanese which lived in the entrance of the London Zoo aquarium, seemingly for ever. I never saw it move a muscle in all the times I looked at it.

Whn we arrived in Hong Kong in 1965 we found that the Chinese Giant Salamander was used for class dissection; they had to be ordered from China but were freely available for the food market. The following photographs show one we took onto the roof of the old Northcote Science Building (now demolished) in 1967. My wife, chief salamander wrangler, soon learnt to keep her fingers away from its jaws since it was, perhaps not surprisingly, of a snappy disposition. Indeed, in one of the photographs its jaws are preparing to make another lunge.

Then, this species was known as Megalobatrachus davidianus, a much more descriptive generic name than Andrias.

Classed as 'critically endangered' by IUCN, they are eaten as a luxury item in China. There is great doubt expressed as to whether the salamander farms in China can possibly meet the demand and prevent draining further the wild population, also under pressure because of changing land use and the alteration in river courses. Number Two son was taken aback this year when 'the fish that walks' appeared at a banquet somewhere in central China. He was unimpressed in terms both of palatability and of eating a critically endangered species. There do appear to be serious attempts in progress to conserve this species in situ. Will such efforts will be successful and will the demand for giant salamanders as a luxury food decline or be met entirely from farmed stock?

*Browne RK, Li H, Wang Z, Hime PM, McMillan A, Wu M, Diaz R, Hongxing Z, McGinnity D, Briggler JT. 2012. The giant salamanders (Crypto- branchidae): Part A. palaeontology, phylogeny, genetics, and morphology. Amphibian and Reptile Conservation 5(4):17-29(e54); Browne RK, Li H, Wang Z, Okada S, Hime P, McMillan A, Wu M, Diaz R, McGinnity D, Briggler JT. 2013. The giant salamanders (Cryptobranchidae): Part B. Biogeography, ecology and reproduction. Amphibian and Reptile Conservation 5(4): 30-50.