The axolotl, known for its neotenic features and regenerative abilities, has experienced a staggering 99.5% decline in population density within its primary habitat over the past two decades. The Adoptaxolotl campaign, initiated by ecologists at Mexico’s National Autonomous University (UNAM), aims to address this alarming decline by raising funds for crucial conservation efforts.
Last year’s Adoptaxolotl campaign raised over $26,000, contributing to an experimental captive-breeding program and habitat restoration initiatives in the ancient Aztec canals of Xochimilco. However, Alejandro Calzada, an ecologist leading a team of nine researchers, emphasizes the need for more resources to conduct comprehensive monitoring and research.
Despite their growing popularity as pets, nearly all 18 axolotl species in Mexico remain critically endangered, facing threats from water pollution, a deadly amphibian fungus, and invasive rainbow trout. Scientists have witnessed a dramatic decline from 6,000 axolotls per square kilometer to a mere 36, according to the latest census by the National Autonomous University.
Luis Zambrano González, one of the university’s scientists involved in the campaign, expressed urgency in conducting a new census, the first since 2014. He highlighted the dire situation in Xochimilco, where pollution from soccer fields and floating dens is severely impacting the axolotl habitat.
Without comprehensive data on the distribution and numbers of axolotl species, it is challenging to prioritize conservation efforts and determine the remaining time for these unique creatures. Calzada stressed the need for immediate action, emphasizing their potential to unlock secrets of tissue repair and even cancer recovery due to their remarkable regenerative abilities.
While government conservation programs have primarily focused on the Mexican axolotl, other species exist across Mexico, from tiny streams in the valley of Mexico to the northern Sonora desert. Urban expansion in Mexico City has degraded the canals’ water quality, while invasive rainbow trout from nearby farms displace axolotls and deplete their food sources.
Calzada’s team has increasingly encountered axolotls succumbing to chytrid fungus, a devastating skin-eating disease that has caused widespread amphibian die-offs globally. Despite relying on donations and a network of volunteers, ecologists face further challenges as the Mexican government recently approved an 11% budget cut for its environment department.
Over the six-year term of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s administration, Mexico’s environment department will have received 35% less funding compared to its predecessor, according to an analysis of Mexico’s 2024 budget.
The Adoptaxolotl campaign serves as a crucial step in safeguarding the axolotl, a symbol of Mexico’s rich biodiversity. By supporting this initiative, individuals can contribute to the preservation of these remarkable creatures and the ecosystems they inhabit.