A living specimen of the giant salamander, the world's largest amphibian that can top 100 pounds and reach six feet in length, has been discovered in a Chinese cave.

The individual animal, found in a cave near the city of Chongquin, weighing 104 pounds and at 4.5 feet long, could be as old as 200 years, experts speculate.

If so, it would be one of the oldest invertebrates ever discovered, they say; in captivity, giant salamanders have seldom lived past 50 years of age.

A fisherman near the southwestern Chinese city stumbled on the animal in a cave when he accidentally stepping on something he described as "soft and slimy."

He reported his discovery to local conservationists, who took the creature to a research center for study after determining it was in poor health.

The finding is important because the population of the giant amphibian, once found all over China in streams, caves and forests, have declined catastrophically in the last five decades, researchers say.

Hunting and habitat loss has led to the species hanging on the brink of extinction in the wild, with populations declining by 80 percent, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified the giant salamander as critically endangered.

In China, it is also considered a luxury food item, which has increasingly made it the target of poachers despite official efforts by the Chinese government to protect it.

Because the lineage of the giant salamander, Andrias davidianus, stretches back millions of years, it is sometimes referred to as a "living fossil."

Groups, including the Zoological Society of London, are leading conservation efforts within China in an attempt to save the giant creatures.

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