Ben Tapley

Building the Evidence Base Needed to Conserve Chinese Giant Salamanders

- 9th Oct, 2019

Andrias davidianus (Chinese giant salamander; CGS) is a Critically Endangered and poorly studied salamander, with wild populations that are declining due to overexploitation for meat and habitat loss. Whilst millions of CGS are actively farmed in China, a proportion of farmed stock is released annually as part of a government-endorsed conservation initiative. Releases occur without genetic or health screening and their impact is largely unknown. ZSL and partners initiated a project to develop the evidence base needed to determine future conservation action for this species. The zoo team was heavily involved in the development of standardised techniques for ecological and interview surveys. Over three years from 2013–2016 several teams conducted field surveys and interviews in 97 sites, which were selected using a habitat suitability model and historical records. Overall, they spent a cumulative 7.47 person-years searching and detected 24 CGS at four sites, all of which were thought to have originated from farms. They also found widespread evidence of poaching. Ecological survey results were verified by the local ecological knowledge surveys, which were carried out at villages closest to ecological survey sites. Of 2,872 respondents the mean last sighting date was 18.96 years earlier. They studied CGS population genetics and conclude that the CGS consists of at least three species, one of which the zoo resurrected after it was synonymised in 1968. ZSL’s widely disseminated results provide evidence of catastrophic range-wide population declines of CGS and the evidence base needed to undertake extinction risk assessment and develop formal conservation management recommendations. This projected was submitted to the BIAZA Awards Conservation category 2019 and won a Gold award.

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