A biologist, some nuns and an endangered salamander walk into a lab.
It's not the start of a bad joke, but rather the tale behind one convents' hope to save an endangered species on the brink of extinction.
The Lake Pátzcuaro salamander can only be found in Mexico’s third largest lake. Some estimates have placed the total population at approximately 100 amphibians, the National Geographic said in a recent report.
Omar Domínguez, a conservation biologist at Morelia’s Michoacán University, recently told the magazine that the animals could be extinct within the next 20 to 30 years. However, a new conservation program headed by Domínguez could change that outcome.
Gerardo Garcia, a Chester Zoo expert involved with the program, visited Mexico in 2014 and was encouraged to meet with the Sisters of the Monastery of the Dominican Order who, for the past 150 years, have worked to breed the rare salamanders as they are considered an important ingredient in a medicine used by the sisters believed to cure coughs, asthma and anemia.
A handful of nuns live and work at a breeding facility which contained tanks that can hold up to 400 salamanders. According to the report, the nuns feed the amphibians organic earthworms and use a nearby well to change the tank water regularly.
“They have a fresh environment, freshly harvested food, and they have a fully dedicated staff,” Garcia says. “It’s just what they need. You almost create an ideal environment for the endangered species.”
The nuns also pair the salamanders up for breeding and microchip the animals for monitoring.
None of the animals in captivity have been released into the freshwater lake. It's a process Garcia says could take up to a year to happen.