AN ENDANGERED giant salamander discovered hidden in a cereal box at a postal hub in Baginton has gone on display at London Zoo.
An attempt to smuggle five of the world’s largest amphibians, which originate from China, was foiled by border force officers at the depot near Coventry Airport. One of the salamanders was already dead.
The discovery was made in September 2016 and the surviving salamanders were passed to London Zoo where one has now gone on display.
The animal has been named Professor Lew – which means ‘dragon keepers’ in Chinese – and has been moved to a state-of-the-art tank in the reptile house.
One of the other salamanders – which are highly territorial animals – will eventually be introduced as a mate and the remaining two will be moved to another zoo in the UK.
London Zoo’s curator of amphibians Ben Tapley said: “We work closely with border force to identify unusual animals, but even I was astonished to see that they were Chinese giant salamanders – one of the world’s most critically endangered amphibians.”
Zoo keepers say the salamanders are ‘surprisingly charismatic’ and can grow up to nearly two metres long and weigh over 50kg.
In recent years the animals have become a culinary delicacy and are facing extinction after they were taken from the wild to stock breeding farms.
A four-year survey by London Zoo experts found only 24 animals in the wild and the last average sighting by residents around 20 years ago.
The zoo is now calling for a global breeding programme to ensure salamanders survive.
Mr Tapley said: “Sadly, the results of our survey confirmed the desperate plight of these unique aquatic giants. The four-year project only located 24 animals in the wild – and it was a further blow when genetic testing revealed they were all likely to be releases or escapes from local farms.
“As the only zoo in the country to have Chinese giant salamanders in residence, it’s a privilege to be able to shine a spotlight on this incredible species.
“We also hope to find out more about the exact lineage of these four through genetic testing, so we can cross reference the results with any data we obtain in the field and support efforts to tackle the emerging illegal pet trade in the species.”