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Protecting Mexico’s iconic salamander means saving one of the country’s most important wetlands

In February, crowds gathered around Lake Xochimilco in Mexico City and witnessed the release of an endemic salamander called the axolotl, a culturally respected amphibian that is endangered by lake pollution.

After a pre-Hispanic flute and incense ritual, the mayors of various wards of the city have stated six axolotl in captivity (AK-) as a statement of efforts to protect the species and their habitat. Dropped (pronounced suh-laa-tl) into the lake. ..

However, Oscar Camacho Flores, the founder of the national civil society Preservacf AC, called it “a sacrificial ritual, not asking for their salvation, as it was clear that they would die.”

At the end of last month, Camacho went to the Attorney General’s office for illegal environmental behavior and animal cruelty against Jose Carlos Acosta Luis, the mayor of the community of Xochimilco, because of the pollution of Lake Xochimilco (pronounced Sochimilco). Filed a lawsuit. Camacho claimed that they did not have the required environmental permits, and they did not follow the proposed protocol for releasing axolotl. Acosta Luis did not respond to requests for comment.

But the battle to save Axolotl speaks for itself. It is to save one of the most controversial wetlands in the country.

Lake Xochimilco is the only remaining lake of the five lakes that once formed the Lake Basin of the Valley of Mexico. Consists of over 6,000 acres of protected wetlands Located at the southern tip of Mexico City. There is also a long-lasting Chinampa. It is a small rectangular island that the Aztecs first built centuries ago for agriculture using willow trees, lilies and mud.

The lake also serves as a resting place for migratory birds such as pelicans and herons. It is home to 2% of the world’s biodiversity. There are about 1,700 species of plants, 57 species of reptiles, 320 species of birds, 70 species of mammals, and 20 species of amphibians. Over 250 of these species are endemic, including axolotl. The salamander is a very cultural icon among the Mexican people, so the Bank of Mexico printed it on the country’s 50 peso banknote.

Originally rich in freshwater and biodiversity, Lake Sochimirko has been used by the government to supply water demand for growing cities, so it has become several waterways for the growth of unregulated cities. It has been reduced.

To counter the imbalances that excessive water extraction has created on the lake’s ecosystem, the government began injecting secondary quality water from the Elsero de la Estrela treatment plant in the 1970s.

Around the same time, the Mexican government decided to introduce carp and tilapia (an alien species that feed on axolotl) as a means of living for the locals. Experts are now reporting the presence of fecal coliforms, streptococci and enterococci, heavy metals and endocrine disruptors, among other contaminants.

“Imagine the quality of that fish. […] All pollutants in the water go to animals, “says Felipe Valera, 46, a local Chinampa farmer who witnessed the decline of the lake for life. “My dad still told me you can swim [in the lake], I was completely confident in eating the fish that was there. “

He added that the lake dries out year by year. “Every year, it goes down and down. I don’t know when this will stop.”

On February 16, 2022, a man will hold a ceremony on a canal in Mexico City, Mexico, as part of a campaign to protect the endangered axolotl and its habitat. Credits: Luis Barron / Eyepix Group / Future Publishing via Getty Images
On February 16, 2022, a man will hold a ceremony on the canal in Mexico City, Mexico, as part of a campaign to protect the endangered salamander and its habitat. The release of captive breeding salamanders into the lake that month was controversial due to the allegations that water quality made it difficult for the axolotl to survive and that the release did not follow proper permits and environmental protocols. Credits: Luis Barron / Eyepix Group / Future Publishing via Getty Images

If nothing changes, not only will the lake be polluted, disappear By 2050 — with dire environmental impacts.

“If you lose all of Xochimilco’s water, the city’s temperature will rise by an average of 2 degrees Celsius,” said Luis Zambrano, an ecologist at the National University of Mexico, who focuses on the recovery of Xochimilco and the conservation of the axolotl. I am saying.

The Mexican government has consistently reduced its environmental budget from just over $ 4 billion in 2013 to $ 1.5 billion in 2020. Currently, the budget has been increased to about $ 1.8 billion, but it is still insufficient to address the country’s environmental problems.

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Meanwhile, at the end of last year, the Government of Mexico City completed the construction of a bridge that divides the Xochimilco wetland, fragmenting its hydrological flow.

Due to the social inequality and financial difficulties facing Xochimilcans, Zambrano implemented the project Refugio Chinampa in 2018. He knew that taking care of Chinampas and cleaning the waters of the lake would pave the way for the return of other species such as axolotl and fish acocil. Being a charal, he got the help of a local Chinampa like Valera.

To date, up to 40 isolated Chinampa have been restored, with approximately 8 miles of shelter space for the axolotl. Zambrano is concerned about funding, but hopes to do more repairs and build a clean canal network in the future.

His efforts to date have received most of the funding from the Mexican Cultural Secretariat, which became concerned about Xochimilco after being listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1987. The Secretariat first began donating about $ 318,000 a year, after which it increased the amount to just over $ 227,000. From time to time, the Xochimilco government also contributes, but for a much smaller amount.

“It takes another ten times more to start calling more Kinampero, because everything ensures that Chinan Pero lives with dignity,” Zambrano said. But new generations of farmers are less interested in continuing to work in Chinampa because of the difficulty of maintaining them in a polluted environment and the harsh conditions they have to live in, he said. ..

Ironically, helping the locals recover and live in Chinampa is the key to saving the axolotl and the lake. This agricultural system improves water quality because food is produced without the use of fertilizers or pesticides. In addition, Zambrano has installed a filter to clean the water.

His work can also help stop the city’s overexploitation on the lake and make Chinampa a sustainable food source for Mexico City. Chinampa, on the other hand, provides shelters for axolotl and other species. “Ahorotor is, so to speak, the flag bearer of the entire army in Chinampa,” Valera said.

However, the release of the axolotl must be done properly with proper permits and investigations. “Especially for endangered species, the reintroduction process needs to be very well planned,” Zambrano said. This requires compliance with Mexican environmental regulations and the international protocols of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies axolotl into the category of endangered species.

What the mayor did in releasing Axolotl in February was nothing new, Zambrano said. He said he had reintroduced as a way to breed axolotl and attract people and tourists without the necessary environmental permits, and saw other people with a clear impact on the species.

“What I saw was that there were a lot of corpses of axolotl next to the place,” he said. “When I passed by, I think,’Oh, there was a ceremony.'”

At this time, it is unclear what the authorities will do in response to the mayor’s release of Axolotl in February. Global Environmental Disclaimer Index Mexico 2020 The country has shown that it has “fragile environmental policies and inadequate institutional capacity to protect ecosystems.”

And as time went on, more amputated people felt from the axolotl and other endangered species, as the new generation didn’t have the opportunity to see them up close, Camacho said.

They know them and recognize them as a national symbol, but they won’t really feel their loss until they touch them or look directly at them, he said. I added. Develop a sense of protection for animals. “

According to Mexican legend, when the axolotl becomes extinct, humanity becomes extinct. Even if this is just a myth, it represents the truth for Valleia, and for the people of Kinampero and Mexico.

Valera said the extinction of Axolotl and Xochimilco would feel like losing his identity, his history, and his roots. “It’s as if your grandfather died again, or your ancestors died again,” Valera said. “And because Xochimilco is ill, it hurts.” Protecting Mexico’s iconic salamander means saving one of the country’s most important wetlands

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