One of four rare Chinese Giant Salamanders found in cereal boxes being smuggled into the UK is making his public debut at the ZSL London Zoo.
“It was the best of prizes, it was the worst of prizes,” to paraphrase Charles Dickens, and we think most anyone over the age of 12 will agree it was the latter. We'll let the ZSL London Zoo explain more fully: “Today, we welcome four Chinese giant salamanders, to their new home at @zsllondonzoo after @UKBorder found these Critically Endangered amphibians being illegally imported, in a cereal box!”
We presume the box in question was the Family Size as Chinese Giant Salamanders (Andrias davidianus), while not truly “giant”, aren't pygmies either. Adults can grow up to 1.8 meters (almost 6 feet) long and tip the scales at up to 54kg (119 lbs.). The four rescued salamanders were much smaller and therefore younger when discovered, however. They now measure roughly 30 cm (12 inches) long after being treated, out of public view, at the ZSL London Zoo.
One of the rescued salamanders, dubbed “Professor Lew” by ZSL staff, is making his public debut as both the creature and its custom-built enclosure in the Reptile House are finally ready for prime time. It took about six months to construct the three meter (almost 10 ft) long tank, specially designed to replicate the salamander's native environment in mountainous regions of central, south-western and southern China.
“Creating the right home for any amphibian is a precision process,” stated Ben Tapley, ZSL's Curator of Amphibians. “Chinese Giant Salamanders need low temperatures, moving water sources and gradual adjustment in water temperature to reflect the changing seasons.”
ZSL London Zoo has had prior experience working with these rarely seen creatures, which is why the Border Force asked ZSL if they would take them in after their discovery and rescue. “We work closely with Border Force to identify unusual animals,” confirmed Tapley, “but even I was astonished to see that they were Chinese Giant Salamanders – one of the world's most critically endangered amphibians.”
While Professor Lew seizes the spotlight, ZSL's keepers continue to assist the three other seized salamanders as they recover from the “cereal box caper”. It is hoped that eventually one of the three will be introduced to Professor Lew in the hopes they will mate and produce some “little giants”. The remaining two will then be transferred to other zoos so as to avoid conflicts between members of this highly territorial species.