Four Critically Endangered Chinese giant salamanders were rescued by officials after an attempt was made by smugglers to illegally import them recently.
Border Force asked ZSL wildlife experts to identify the amphibians before inviting keepers at London Zoo to home the salamanders as they have previous experience looking after the aquatic giants.
Now, one of the surprisingly charismatic amphibians – named Professor ‘Lew’, which means ‘dragon keepers’ in Chinese – has moved into a state-of-the-art tank in the Zoo’s Reptile House, giving visitors the chance to come face to face with one of nature’s giants. Currently measuring 30cm in length, Professor Lew is thought to be four years old, but could eventually grow up to 1.8 metres in length and weigh up to 54kg.
ZSL’s Curator of Amphibians, Ben Tapley, said: “We work closely with Border Force to identify unusual animals, but even I was astonished to see that they were Chinese giant salamanders – one of the world’s most Critically Endangered amphibians.
“Chinese giant salamanders may not be everyone’s idea of beautiful – I’ve heard them described as giant brown blobs with eyes – but Professor Lew’s crinkly purple tail and slimy smile have already made the newcomer a big hit with all our keepers, who have been finding any excuse to visit the Reptile House.
“They’re definitely unique: often referred to as living fossils, Chinese giant salamanders have remained largely unchanged for millions of years – as the only zoo in the country to have one in residence it’s a real privilege to be able to introduce the species to our visitors.”
The three other seized salamanders are being looked after behind-the-scenes and keepers will eventually introduce one of the group to Professor Lew as a mate: the remaining two may then move to other Zoos in the UK, as the species are highly territorial and need to be housed in separate enclosures.
For more information on visiting ZSL London Zoo go to www.zsl.org