Hunting for the baby fish

A team of experts from ZSL recently visited our Chinese giant salamander project in China. Head of ZSL’s herpetology department Ben Tapley has written this blog to describe the trip.

Known locally as the baby fish due to the crying sound it reportedly makes, the Chinese giant salamander is the world’s largest amphibian.  Listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN and ranked number 2 on the EDGE amphibian list, the Chinese giant salamander is in urgent need of protection. Most wild populations of Chinese giant salamanders are threatened and some have already gone extinct. Population declines and local extinctions have been attributed to habitat loss and fragmentation, emerging infectious disease, hunting for the luxury food market and use in traditional medicines.

In May I travelled to China with Andrew Cunningham and Sam Turvey (Institute of Zoology, ZSL) and where we facilitated a workshop to build in country capacity and develop a set of standardised surveying protocols. With the assistance of our EDGE fellows, Chen Shu, Lv Jingcai and Zhou Feng we taught multiple stakeholders how to conduct field surveys, carry out social survey questionnaires and collect samples for disease screening and genetic work. Attendees got hands on experience on how to microchip and swab amphibians and a great time was had by all.

After the workshop we travelled to Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve to continue the training in the field and carry out an intensive giant salamander survey. The habitat was as good as it gets in China with thick forest and fast flowing streams teaming with tadpoles and fish. Despite a week scrambling up streams, flipping boulders, setting traps and snorkelling both by day and by night we failed to locate a single salamander. Worryingly we encountered a lot of bow hooks set around known salamander habitat which shows that even in a well-protected area the salamanders are still hunted, either for consumption or to sell to the giant salamander farms which are springing up across the range of this species. It seems that time is running out for wild giant salamanders in China but at least now we have a team on the ground ready to monitor salamanders in the wild, a small but an important step for the conservation of the Chinese giant salamander.

Darren Williams was also part of the team to visit China and he produced the following documentary:

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