San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance and conservation partners, including Ocean Park Hong Kong, are working to create a breeding group for the endangered Chinese giant salamander.
The goal is eventually to re-establish depleted populations in the Chinese giant salamander’s native range, in China’s mountain river system, while at the same time educating the public about conservation of its habitat.
The Chinese giant salamander is the largest living amphibian on the planet, with some measuring nearly 6 feet in length. However, their elusive nature has made it difficult for biologists to study their reproductive habits.
Veterinary and wildlife care specialist teams at the San Diego Zoo conducted ultrasounds on three of the creatures in an effort to determine their sex and better understand their overall health. Establishing their sex is critical to the creation of a conservation breeding plan to help bring this species of “living fossils” back from the brink of extinction.
The technique of using ultrasound to determine sex was discovered and recommended by specialists in China and colleagues in the zoo community.
Kim Gray, curator of herpetology and ichthyology at the San Diego Zoo, “males and females look very, very similar” and using ultrasound helps them see inside the Chinese giant salamanders.
“These species are really unique in how they reproduce,” Gray said. “The males and females will breed and produce around 400 to 500 eggs, and the males stay with them. Other than that, there’s not a lot known. We want to learn as much as possible.”
The Chinese giant salamander is listed as Critically Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, due to heavy poaching and harvesting for human consumption, despite laws to protect them.
Their habitat has become fragmented, and their numbers have plummeted by 80% over the last few decades.
The newly opened Denny Sanford Wildlife Explorers Basecamp at the San Diego Zoo is one of only six locations in the U.S. where guests can view Chinese giant salamanders. This large amphibian can be seen in the lower level of the Cool Critters building.