In recent years, the axolotl has become quite the internet sensation. The Mexican salamander’s presence in memes and inclusion in phenomena Minecraft and Fortnite throughout the current decade have made the iconic amphibia a gen Z favorite. While axolotl pet breeding has maintained a steady domestic population of genetic descendants, the wild population in the salamander’s native country has shrunken 99.5% according to scientists behind a new virtual fundraiser to conserve the animal.
The National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) has launched the “Adoptaxolotl” campaign utilizing the creature’s newfound popularity to help raise funds for axolotl conservation via virtual adoption. For around $10 USD, you can feed an axolotl dinner alongside receiving a physical infographic. Donate around $50 USD, and you can fix an axolotl’s home. At around $360 USD, you get an entire year of health updates on your digitally adopted axolotl alongside several physical goodies.
Although real pet axolotls are readily available, they’re genetically an entirely different species compared to the increasingly rare wild ones native to Mexico City, according to resource website Axolotl Central. Native axolotls, a national icon in Mexico, have faced extinction due to rapid urbanization in Mexico City. Said urbanization has “...damaged the water quality of the canals, while in lakes around the capital rainbow trout which escape from farms can displace axolotls and eat their food” according to the AP.
Only 36 axolotls per square kilometer of Lake Xochimilco were counted in the last census conducted in 2014, as reported by UNAM ecologist Luis Zambrano in an article for NPR. The university hopes the funds raised from this year’s “Adoptaxolotl” campaign will drive another.
Last year, over $25,000 was raised for the campaign. According to ecologists Alejandro Calzada and Luis Zambrano, 10 times as much is needed to return native axolotls to a healthy number. The 2nd run of the “Adoptaxolotl” campaign comes at a critical time for funding, as Mexico’s government has cut its environmental funding by 11%. The AP states, “...the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will have given 35% less money to the country’s environment department than its predecessor, according to an analysis of Mexico’s 2024 budget.”
The UNAM campaign will most appeal to those living in states/provinces where the pet variation isn’t allowed to be kept. According to Axolotl Central, pet axolotls pose a major threat if released in the wild due to their “...potential to easily outcompete already struggling native salamander species…” “Adoptaxolotl” will be the only chance for those living in California, Maine, New Jersey, D.C., and certain provinces of Canada to own a lovable axolotl friend.