Mexico’s New Museum Spotlights Critically Endangered Axolotl Salamander

MEXICO CITY—A new museum and conservation center dedicated to Mexico’s endangered axolotl salamander sheds light on the amazing story of the amphibian that has captured the attention of scientists and the public.

An exhibition at Mexico City’s Chapultepec Zoo on Saturday showcased the axolotl salamander’s impressive self-healing abilities.

The center aims to raise awareness of animals that live only in Mexico and are declining in the wild due to serious threats to their natural habitat.

For decades, researchers have marveled at how axolotls can regenerate severed limbs and damaged body tissue, as well as hearts and brains. , and their ability to absorb oxygen through the skin, making them particularly vulnerable to contaminated water.

“They are one of the few animals that can regenerate skin, muscle, bones, blood vessels, nerves, heart and brain,” said Fernando Guar, the zoo’s wildlife conservation officer.

“A very important part of this space is environmental education,” Guar says of the new museum’s exhibits, workshops and labs.

In Aztec legend, the desperate and rebellious god Xolotl transformed himself into an Axolotl to hide and avoid being sacrificed by his fellow gods. He was still found, captured and killed. They were also the mainstay of the banquet tables of Aztec kings.

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An axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) swims in the aquarium of the new Axolotl Museum and Amphibian Conservation Center promoting the conservation and research of this endangered species at the Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico City on January 25, 2023. (Henry Romero/Reuters)

The axolotl native to the south Xochimilco district of Mexico City is particularly famous, but Guar lists 16 other species of axolotl that call Mexico home, each “like an ambassador of the wetlands.”

Axolotl once thrived in the muddy canals of Xochimilco, the only remnant of a once-extensive system of waterways like Venice that dates back to Aztec times. However, census studies show that urban sprawl, polluted waters, and exotic fish that favor young axolotls caused the salamander’s near-total collapse.

Still, Guar said Xochimilco still retains nearly 11 percent of Mexico’s biodiversity, and the country’s 370 amphibian species rank fifth in the world.

Axolotl’s celebrity status was immediately apparent when the museum opened to its first visitors.

“To tell you the truth, I’m very, very, very, very, very excited to see how they eat, how they live, how they live,” he said in his arms.

“I’m marked for life.”

Albert Fajardo