Mexico's Water Monster on the brink

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A recent report from the AP indicated that a truly unusual animal from Mexico may soon become extinct.

The axolotl is about a foot long salamander native to Lake Xochimilco. The animal was part of "Aztec legend and diet" and once numbered in the millions. A few decades ago, there were 1500 axolotls per square mile. Today there are fewer than 25.

There are several reasons for the decline: competition with introduced species, pollution from sewage and farming, and the dramatic loss of habitat due to the draining of the only lakes where these animals are indigenous.

What makes this salamander unique is its ability to retain some of its tadpole features like gills and a tail despite growing limbs like other salamanders. This process is called neoteny. Axolotls retain their juvenile characteristics even as they develop limbs and sexually mature. In addition, they spend their entire lives in water; able to breathe through gills or by taking in air by mouth.

Efforts to rescue the axolotl will depend on whether scientists, government agencies and the business community can work together to restore suitable habitats for the animals in the canals that remain from the original lakebed.

To increase public awareness of this unique creature as well as the challenges our aquatic environments face, Wildlife World Zoo plans to display some of these animals in the new Wildlife World Aquarium due to open in December.

Grey Stafford, Ph.D. is the Director of Conservation and Communications at the Wildlife World Zoo and author of the new pet-training book, " ". He appears frequently on 3TV with some of the zoo's fascinating animals.

Wildlife World Zoo, which is located at 16501 W. Northern Ave., Litchfield Park, is open 365 days a year, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Daytime admission is $16.99 (plus tax) for adults and $8.99 (plus tax) for children 3 to 12; children 2 and younger get in free. For more information, call 623-935-WILD (9453) or visit .