Conservation and long term management of the achoque and its habitat
The critically endangered achoque salamander (Ambystoma dumerilii) is a species endemic to Lake Patzcuaro, Mexico. Despite being listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN’s Red List, the only ex situ management of the species so far has been done by a group of Dominican nuns living near the lake.
One of four strictly aquatic salamander species found in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, the achoque, presents the unique characteristic to retain its larval features into adulthood. Only found in Lake Patzcuaro, the species plays an important role in its ecosystem as one of the top predators in the food chain of the lake.
Historically, the salamanders have had considerable value for the local communities who were using them to make a medicinal remedy for the treatment of respiratory diseases and anaemia.
A group of Dominican nuns has been making this cough medicine using the salamanders for decades and have started to breed the species more than 15 years ago under the recommendation of José Luis García Calderón and Esteban Prado Záyago. The nuns have recently started taking care of the salamanders for conservation and educational purposes creating a unique opportunity to launch a long-term conservation effort to preserve the species.
This project led by the Mexican Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo and ran in partnership with Chester Zoo, Manchester Metropolitan University, PIMVS Jimbani Xarhantani, the Centro Regional de Investigaciones Pesqueras (CRIP) and the Monastery of the Dominican Order in Patzcuaro, intends to increase our understanding of the achoque to inform an effective management plan. This will be achieved by establishing the range of the species, conducting long-term monitoring of the wild population but also by looking at the factors threatening the species.
Another objective is to develop a healthy long-term ex situ management programme to allow the team to learn more about the species’ biology and to support the potential needs of the wild population in Lake Patzcuaro. The project aims to improve the ex situ breeding of the species and to develop a reproductive management plan in Mexico and overseas.