In the municipality of Chignahuapan, in the northern highlands of Puebla, a group of citizens guards one a mythical and fascinating species of Mexican culture: the axolotl.
The "Casa del Axolote" is a space dedicated to conservation and reproduction in which –currently– around 100 specimens live, says Yanin Carbajal, founding partner.
In an interview with Poblanerías, Yanin Carbajal talks about the importance of axolotls for science, the symbol they represent within the Aztec culture and above all, the care to preserve the species that is in danger of extinction.
"We are in a crisis where the environment is finding it increasingly difficult to make its way because of human beings and we want to give something back through raising awareness among the people who visit us at the axolotl exhibit."
The Casa del Axolote, located next to the center of Chignahuapan, houses four of the more than 17 species that exist:
*Ambystoma velasci: inhabits mainly in the Sierra Norte de Puebla.
*Ambystoma andersoni: inhabits mainly in Zacapu, Michoacán.
*Ambystoma dumerilli: mainly inhabits in Patzcuaro, Michoacan.
*Mexican Ambystoma: mainly inhabits Xochimilco in Mexico City.
Reproduction and care
In addition to being an exhibition and conservation space, the Casa del Axolote is an environmental management unit that has permits from the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT in Spanish) for the reproduction of the velasci, Mexican and dumerilli species.
And this is where their important work comes from because the dumerilli species is the most likely to become extinct due to the fact that it inhabits only one place in the world: Lake Patzcuaro.
She comments on the difficulties for the reproduction of the species, due to the fact that they need specific conditions for their reproduction, such as cold weather:
"Their reproduction is difficult because everything depends on the climate and now with climate change, which changes radically from one year to the next, an axolotl when reproducing, having the necessary conditions, deposits from 50 to 700 or 800 eggs. But if we talk about nature, very few of them really survive because some of them do not have the necessary strength when they are born, others get sick and others are preyed upon. So, we have the statistic that 1% survive".
Yanin Carbajal considers that there is a debate among axolotlers about what is best for their future and whether the sale of the species will contribute to promote their care and conservation.
The axolotl is a delicate species that needs cold climates and skin care that can only be found in stagnant water, where there are microorganisms that help them stay healthy. This does not mean that they live in dirty water.
"The axolotl is very delicate, it is a very difficult animal and has quite complicated diseases. For example, if you manage to keep it in the tank, one of the requirements is that it has enough space for itself, it must be spacious. Many want to put them as beta fish and an axolotl needs at least 60 or 80 liters of water, to have shelters where it can feel de-stressed, to have cold water because it cannot live with hot water because its metabolism accelerates, it gets sick and dies".
Biology and regeneration
Depending on the species, there are black or mottled brown, albino or white axolotls. Although their average size is 15 centimeters, some can reach up to 30 centimeters in length.
They are cold-blooded animals that live most of the time in the water, where they breathe through gills. When they reach their adult stage, they become terrestrial and change their pulmonary respiration.
The axolotl has the ability to regenerate amputated limbs, bones, nerves and muscles; heal wounds without leaving scars and even regenerate damaged internal organs.
In 2018, scientists from the Regional Center for Multidisciplinary Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM in spanish) carried out an ambitious investigation to help them determine the medicinal and food applications of the axolotl.
The study, which was carried out in Patzcuaro, Xochimilco, regions of the State of Mexico and Puebla, suggests that the axolotl can be used as a nutritional resource in extreme cases, such as the period after childbirth, as well as food for children in a state of malnutrition and for the elderly who are losing physical vigor.
Therefore, based on all these antecedents and its potential uses, scientists are committed to the defense, conservation and continuity of the species.
During pandemic times
Yanin Carbajal points out that, due to the sanitary emergency, conservation work has become more difficult, especially finding food.
He used to travel constantly to Mexico City to get what he needed; however with the closure and mobility restrictions, it has become complicated, to the extent that she has had to start breeding worms and other animals that serve as food.
"The difficulty has quadrupled, trying to keep them healthy and apart from the sanitary issue is the climate, right now we are very hot in Chignahuapan when that is not normal. Thanks to the people who visited us, we received donations all the time, which have helped us to keep the axolotls in the conditions we have managed to keep them in, but with the closure since March, maintenance has been complicated".
In low season, the Casa del Axolote is visited by up to 30 people; but, in high season, summer vacations and the months of October to December, they receive up to two thousand people.
Yanin Carbajal mentioned that they are looking to approach universities in the region for the reproduction of axolotl food such as insects, fish, worms and charales.
If you want to support the conservation of these species, you can contact Casa del Axolote through Facebook or by phone: 797 976 77 64.