Popular newt struggles to survive

The little-known Luristan newt (also called Kaiser’s spotted newt) is a highly attractive EDGE amphibian from Iran.  Its striking colouration is thought to provide a warning to potential predators of its toxicity.  Sadly, however, the remarkable appearance of the Luristan newt has also resulted in this species becoming highly prized in the pet trade, where collectors will spend up to £200 to own one.  Now Critically Endangered in the wild, the combination of over-collection and habitat loss is generating a very uncertain future for this beautiful creature.

Luristan newts are extremely sensitive to environmental change because they live in arid, marginal conditions where severe droughts can have a grave impact on population numbers as these newts depend on spring-fed streams for breeding.  Worsening the precarious situation of the species in the wild, the Luristan newt is becoming increasingly popular in the international pet trade, where individuals caught in the wild are being illegally exported out of Iran and are finding their way into global markets.

A recent article published in the Independent highlighted the grim reality that the Luristan newt faces in the wild.  Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor and Kevin Rawlinson stated:

The demand has been such that the wild population, found only in four streams of Iran’s Zagros Mountains, was reduced by 80 per cent between 2001 and 2005 alone, and is now classed as Critically Endangered. It is estimated that fewer than 1,000 mature individuals remain.”

Sadly for the newt, its rarity contributes to its collectability as some amphibian enthusiasts enjoy keeping unusual and beautiful species in their homes.  Although certain amphibians can be captive bred to meet demand from the pet trade, the economic value of the Luristan newt also drives illegal collection from the wild.  The risk of over-collection to the survival of this species in the wild is immense so we urge potential collectors to consider the consequences of buying a Critically Endangered species that could have been taken from a dwindling wild population.  Amphibians can, after all, be driven to extinction by such incidents of over-collection from the wild.

Linking in with the current CITES meeting in Qatar, Michael McCarthy and Kevin Rawlinson added:

Over the next few days, the 175 Cites member states meeting in Doha, including Britain, will consider whether to take a more proactive approach to regulating the online trade in endangered species. This is likely to include the creation of an international database, scientific research to gauge the correlation between wildlife loss and online trade, and closer collaboration with Interpol, the international law enforcement agency.”

To read the full article, please click here.

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  1. on March 17th, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    Hello, I’m John Clare from Caudata.org, a site dedicated to the captive care and breeding of newts and salamanders. Captive breeding accounts on our web site were referenced in Iran’s current proposal to list Neurergus kaiseri (Luristan Newt) as CITES Appendix I.

    In my opinion, this protective listing was needed over a decade ago, and now, given the precarious situation in which this species finds itself, it’s hard not to be pessimistic about its survival. With such low numbers left in the wild, yet the great success that private individuals around the world and institutions like Sedgwick County Zoo (USA) have had in breeding this species, listing the species in CITES Appendix one at this point would seem to be something of a “Catch 22”. The listing will obviously help to reduce wild collection but it will also negate any captive breeding efforts carried out by private individuals, limiting breeding of the species to institutions like zoos and aquariums. Sadly, these institutions must pick and choose the animals that they maintain, and in my considerable experience, newts rarely, if ever, make it into institutional collections due to their poor visibility as display animals and their specialist maintenance requirements. There is also very little expertise in institutions like zoos when it comes to newts and salamanders, and virtually no zoos have ever bred a species of tailed-amphibian.

    So while I’m very much in favour of listing the species in CITES Appendix I, there is a large shortfall in the required expertise and newt-friendly grants/funding to foster captive breeding and reintroduction efforts.


  2. on March 25th, 2010 at 7:49 am

    Just to update anyone coming to this – on Sunday March 21st, the delegates at the CITES meeting in Doha, Qatar, voted unanimously to list the Luristan Newt in CITES Appendix I. For more detail, as well as some discussion on the implications for captive breeding programs, please see here: http://www.caudata.org/forum/f1-general-topics/f5-general-discussion-news-members/f1166-press-news-items/67658-luristan-newt-receives-full-cites-protection.html

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