The Luristan newt is the smallest of the four Neurergus salamanders, a colourful and attractive group found in the Middle East. Their attractive colouration warns predators of their toxic skin secretions. This species lives in just three fast-flowing spring-fed streams in the southern Zagros Mountains, Iran, which run through very arid shrubland. However, the newt has disappeared from one of these streams, further restricting the population. Fewer than 1,000 adult newts are thought to survive.
Male Luristan newts perform a courtship dance for females, undulating the tail in front of the female. The female lays eggs under rocks in the stream; the larvae that emerge are adapted to the fast-flowing water with conspicuously long tails which help them swim against strong currents. They develop for about a year in the stream, spending their first winter in water before metamorphosing into the adult newt.
This species is threatened by habitat loss, which is occurring as a result of wood extraction for small-scale subsistence use. The Luristan newt is extremely sensitive to environmental change because they live in arid, marginal conditions. The effects of recent severe droughts have negatively impacted this species, which depends on spring-fed streams for breeding.
Over-collection is also a major threat – this attractive newt is in demand for the international pet trade and it appears that individuals caught in the wild are being illegally exported out of Iran for this global market. The threats are estimated to have caused a decline in the population of over 80% in ten years, and this newt is now restricted to a very small area.
On Sunday March 21st this year delegates at the CITES conference in Doha, Qatar, voted unanimously to list the Luristan Newt in CITES Appendix I, in a fantastic step forward in the conservation of the species. As a result, trade in the Luristan newt is now illegal except in very exceptional circumstances when a license is required.
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