Mar. 2 - Mexico's unique salamander, the axolotl, could be extinct in the wild in five to 10 years according to scientists. A revered symbol of central Mexico, the axolotl is the victim of pollution and introduced fish species and now a census is underway to see exactly how many remain in their native habitat. Tara Cleary reports.
Meet the axolotl - the Mexican salamander. It breathes through external gills and comes in varying shades from brown to black. And even though it can regenerate missing limbs, the amphibian is losing the fight against pollution and invasive fish species. Scientists say the axolotl is on the brink of extinction. SOUNDBITE: ARMANDO TOVAR, UNAM BIOLOGY INSTITUTE BIOLOGIST, SAYING (Spanish): "The situation is critical and the tendencies and model statistics we have carried out indicate we will be able to have them (axolotls) in the wild for around for five to 10 more years if this tendency continues." Armando Tovar is a biologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. His team is carrying out a new census, which can help researchers find out how many axolotls have been lost since the last count in 2008. That census found only 100 in the wild, a 98 percent drop over recorded numbers just ten years earlier. These waterways near Mexico City are the only place on earth where the salamanders are known to exist and so far, after a four-month quest, none have been found here. In search of a solution, the scientists have isolated reproducing axolotls in channels in an attempt to protect them. But biologist Horacio Mena says that the Mexican salamander is doomed, if the water pollution problem, brought about by increasing urbanisation, is not addressed. SOUNDBITE: HORACIO MENA, UNAM BIOLOGY INSTITUTE BIOLOGIST, SAYING (Spanish): "Once the quality of the water starts improving and the sanitary conditions improve, then we will be able to analyse other alternatives. But actual reintroduction at the moment is not possible." The searches will continue in three to four month periods, although scientists like Mena fear that for the axolotl, it may be too late.