Over Thanksgiving weekend, more than 350 endangered blind salamanders disappeared from an aquatic research center in Texas, and the researchers are so desperate to get them back, there is now a $20,000 reward for their safe return.
Authorities said 253 Texas blind salamanders and 110 San Marcos salamanders, both of which are listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List, vanished from the San Marcos Aquatic Resources Center in Texas. Originally, the reward for their return was $10,000, donated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, but as it has now been more than two months, this has been upped to $20,000, with contributions from the Center for Biological Diversity and the Andrew Sabin Family Foundation.
“Losing hundreds of these amazing salamanders is a terrible blow to their conservation,” said Collette Adkins, an attorney and biologist with the Center, in a statement. “The San Marcos facility served as a ‘Noah’s Ark’ that could preserve the fragile salamanders if they went extinct in the wild. The tragic loss of these animals threatens their very existence.”
Both species of salamander are endemic to the springs around San Marcos and Hays County, and have very specific requirements for living, including highly-oxygenated clean water at a certain temperature. The San Marcos salamander gained official protection back in 1980, while the Texas blind salamander has been protected since 1967.
Water pollution has caused their numbers to dwindle, so scientists at the center have been working for years on keeping them alive, introducing a captive breeding program that aims to reintroduce higher numbers back into the wild.
There are a number of theories about what happened, but without any security footage to go on, they can only guess at the moment. It is possible that a predator managed to get into the facility, though it is more likely they were stolen, either to sell on the black market or to “free” the creatures.
The act of breaking an animal out of captivity, despite good intentions, is often misplaced. Without understanding the situation, it often results in harm to the animals. Animals bred in captivity frequently do not have the skills to survive on their own, like the case of a penguin stolen from an aquatic center in South Africa, which almost certainly resulted in the penguin’s death and the death of his two chicks, as penguins are monogamous and his mate couldn’t keep them alive. Oh yes, and they were endangered penguins too.
“Someone out there knows who did this, and I really hope they’ll step forward and help secure justice for these animals,” Adkins said.