Ecologists from Mexico's National Autonomous University last week relaunched a fundraising campaign to bolster conservation efforts for axolotls, an iconic, endangered fishlike type of salamander. The campaign, called "Adoptaxolotl," asks people for as little as 600 pesos (about $35) to virtually adopt one of the tiny "water monsters." Virtual adoption comes with live updates on your axolotl's health, per the AP. For less, donors can buy one of the creatures a virtual dinner. In their main habitat, the population density of Mexican axolotls has plummeted 99.5% in under two decades, according to scientists behind the fundraiser.
Last year's Adoptaxolotl campaign raised just over $26,000 toward an experimental captive breeding program and efforts to restore habitats in the ancient Aztec canals of Xochimilco, a southern borough of Mexico City. Still, there aren't enough resources for thorough research, said Alejandro Calzada, an ecologist surveying less well-known species of axolotls for the government's environment department. "We lack big monitoring of all the streams in Mexico City," let alone the whole country, said Calzada, who leads a team of nine researchers. Despite the creature's recent rise to popularity, almost all 18 species of axolotl in Mexico remain critically endangered, threatened by encroaching water pollution, a deadly amphibian fungus, and non-native rainbow trout.
While scientists could once find 6,000 axolotls on average per square kilometer in Mexico, there are now only 36, according to the National Autonomous University's latest census. A more recent international study found less than a thousand Mexican axolotls left in the wild.Luis Zambrano Gonzalez, one of the university's scientists announcing the fundraiser, says he hopes to begin a new census (the first since 2014) in March. "There is no more time for Xochimilco," said Zambrano. "The invasion" of pollution "is very strong: soccer fields, floating dens. It is very sad." Without data on the number and distribution of different axolotl species in Mexico, it's hard to know how long the creatures have left, and where to prioritize what resources are available.