Rare Salamander Dies at National Zoo

November 12, 2008
News Release

Staff at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo euthanized a female Japanese giant salamander Monday, Nov. 3, due to her declining health following several months of treatment for liver disease and a skin infection. The salamander—the only one at the Zoo—had been removed from its enclosure on Asia Trail for treatment. The Japanese giant salamander is one of the largest salamander species in the world, weighing up to 55 pounds and measuring nearly five feet long.

Several months ago, keepers noted a decrease in the salamander’s appetite. During an exam this past July, Zoo veterinarians performed an ultrasound, took radiographs, obtained a blood sample and performed an endoscopy—a procedure in which a fiber-optic lens is inserted into the body to look at the digestive tract. The animal’s digestive tract appeared healthy, but blood tests showed elevated liver enzymes.

After the exam, the salamander returned to the Reptile Discover Center where she was treated for liver disease, and her symptoms and blood tests showed improvement. In recent weeks, however, staff noticed she had developed a severe skin infection and they began treatment. After two weeks of treatment and close monitoring, the animal continued to show a severe decline in health, and animal care and veterinary staff made the decision to euthanize her.

The Japanese giant salamander is listed as near threatened on the World Conservation Union’s Red List of Threatened Species. It has no natural predators, but has been hunted by local human populations for food and is losing its habitat to deforestation. Only six other U.S. zoos exhibit the species.

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