The Chinese Giant Salamander, known to be the largest amphibian in the world, might soon be extinct, a new study has found.

The population of Chinese salamanders has witnessed a significant decrease in recent years, with the species plagued by habitat loss and excessive poaching. Once thought to appear widely across China, the Chinese Giant Salamander now faces threats of extinction, in large part because of demand for the amphibian as a delicacy.

Why Chinese Giant Salamanders Are Decreasing

"The overexploitation of these incredible animals for human consumption has had a catastrophic effect on their numbers in the wild over an amazingly short time span," said Zoological Society of London's Samuel Turvey. "Unless coordinated conservation measures are put in place as a matter of urgency, the future of the world's largest amphibian is in serious jeopardy."

The researchers investigated 97 sites in 16 of China's 23 provinces and found that the once-ubiquitous species now critically endangered. While Chinese laws prohibit salamander harvesting, illegal poaching practices persist, according to the study, which was published in the Current Biology journal. Some target salamanders for their parts to use in traditional Chinese medicine.

At present, the International Union for Conservation of Nature categorizes Chinese Giant Salamanders as critically endangered animals. Common belief around biological circles claims this species is a derivative of an ancient salamander group that lived 170 million years ago, which is one of the major reasons why humans should put effort toward their conservation.

But such an undertaking could prove difficult, according to a related study also published in Current Biology, since Chinese Giant Salamanders are possibly eight species, a discovery that stunned scientists and "sat us back in our chairs," said Jing Che, of the Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Updating Conservation Methods

Commercial farms that have been breeding the animals and releasing them in the wild without ample consideration of their genetic makeup must be checked, according to the scientists. Because these farms' only goal is to multiply the number of Chinese Giant Salamanders, they could unknowingly mix lineages and make some species prone to maldaptation under different environments.

As such, conservation methods for the animals need urgent updating, according to Che. One such update is establishing specially designed reserves for protecting farm-bred baby Chinese Giant Salamanders.

According to study coauthor Fang Yan, we must create suitable safeguards to protect the genetic makeup of these animals.

Photo: Nature.Catcher | Flickr

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