I’ve never met an axolotl, But Harvard has one in a bottle

by Luigi Guarino on November 9, 2008

The axolotl is a salamander that was an important part of Aztec legend and diet but is now barely hanging on in the tourist canals of Lake Xochimilco in Mexico City. It’s on the IUCN Red List of threatened species, as a result of the draining of the lake on which the city was built, increasing pollution and the introduction of tilapia.

Local fisherman Roberto Altamira, 32, recalls when he was a boy, and the axolotl was still part of the local diet. “I used to love axolotl tamales,” he says, rubbing his stomach and laughing.

Scientists are proposing captive breeding and re-introduction, and “a pilot sanctuary is expected to open in the next three to six months in the waters around Island of the Dolls, so-called because the owner hangs dolls he finds in the canals to ward off evil spirits.”

I hope it works out. I’d like to taste one of those tamales some day. And since we’re on the subject of edible Mexican agrobiodiversity, another example came to my mind today when I read that the new First Family-elect needs an hypoallergenic pooch. They have lots of options beyond the somewhat boring goldendoodle. My personal choice would be the Xoloitzcuintli. And not because its meat is said to have healing properties. Or not primarily for that reason.

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