The Chinese giant salamander, the world's largest amphibian, has been called a "living fossil" because it's remained pretty much unchanged for 170 million years. But it's now in "catastrophic" decline and listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List as "critically endangered."
The largest wildlife survey in China's history has led to the conclusion that they've disappeared from their natural habitat, and that there might be just a few left in the wild, according to a report by the BBC. There are millions currently alive, however, in commercial farms and waiting to be sold to high-end restaurants. They were found in the wild at four sites, but it was determined that they weren't native to the environment and were likely released from commercial breeding farms.
These amphibians, which can grow up to 6-feet long, generally lived in freshwater rivers and used to be widespread in China. Despite it formerly taboo to eat them, and despite their status as an endangered species, Chinese giant salamander are now considered a delicacy. As they can sell for up to $1,500, this has lead to the rise of commercial breeding farms and made them a rarity in the wild.
To make matters worse, conservation strategies for the giant salamander are out-of-date, as it was recently learned that giant salamanders are not one species but at least five. The current strategy of releasing from farms to rivers without taking into account the genetic differences between the species could further endanger the population.
"Together with addressing wider pressures such as poaching for commercial farms and habitat loss," co-researcher Dr. Fang Yan from the Kunming Institute of Zoology told the BBC, "It's essential that suitable safeguards are put in place to protect the unique genetic lineage of these amazing animals, which dates back to the time of the dinosaurs."