Conservationists at Chester Zoo have successfully bred one of the world’s rarest amphibians – the Catalan newt – in an attempt to save it from extinction.
The zoo is the first organisation outside Catalonia to become involved in the breeding project for the newt, the rarest amphibian in Europe.
The critically endangered species, also known as the wild Montseny newt, is from the Montseny mountain range in north-eastern Catalonia, about 60 miles (100km) north of Barcelona.
The recovery plan is a joint effort between Chester Zoo, the Barcelona provincial council, the Catalan government and Barcelona Zoo.
As part of the plan, 12 Montseny newts have hatched at Chester Zoo, where a team of experts are working to ensure their continued survival before they are released into the wild.
Experts at Chester have created a purpose-built breeding facility for the newts, away from all other amphibians housed at the zoo to ensure their bio-security.
In parallel with the breeding programme, conservation efforts are also being made to improve the newts’ natural habitat in preparation for their reintroduction – including improving the water quality and ecological flow of the streams they live in.
Dr Gerardo Garcia, the zoo’s curator of lower vertebrates and invertebrates, said: “The newts are adapted to cold mountain streams and require pristine habitat but, sadly, they are affected by problems linked to climate change, such as rising temperatures and decreasing water resources, and human activities like deforestation.”
The Montseny newts are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Recent estimates indicate that no more than 1,500 remain in an area of less than 3 sq miles (8 sq km).
Frances Carbonell Buira, a Catalonian government biologist, said the recovery plan had had a positive impact. “Over the 10 years it has been up and running, more than 2,000 Montseny newts have been raised and four new populations created,” he said.
“Now Chester Zoo is on board, given its enormous experience in breeding threatened amphibian species, we hope the programme will go from strength to strength, and that we can create a much brighter outlook for these wonderful animals.”