Rewilding the Axolotl

Everyone knows the axolotl’s adorable face, but one team of scientists is working to ensure the endangered animal can live in the wild like it was meant to. The Frontline shares a day in the life of their work.

WORDS BY ROMINA CENISIO

Everyone knows the axolotl’s adorable face, but one team of scientists is working to ensure the endangered animal can live in the wild like it was meant to. The Frontline shares a day in the life of their work.

The darkness of night has given up to the soft haze of dawn. I’m arriving at a pinned location of coordinates in what some might call the middle of nowhere, following them like one might play a game of Hot and Cold until I see a small shack in the distance. The cacophonous morning greetings of birds in the canopies above me take over the sounds of frogs and crickets on the forest floor below me. As I walk toward the shack, a figure comes out and meets me halfway.



Carlos Uriel Sumano, a tall, scruffy 38-year-old wearing cargo pants and a worn cotton long sleeve, greets me as he gestures to follow him to the shack that has the words “MONITORING STATION UNAM” spray-painted at the entrance. Next to the words, warping up and down with the grooved plastic siding, is the portrait of a flat-faced creature with protruding eyes and what looks like the collar of a medieval jester. Sumano, putting on a sun hat while gathering supplies, asks me, “So, what do you want to know?” to which I reply, “Everything.”



I’m an hour drive south of the bustling center of Mexico City, a welcome escape from the boisterous city life. Today, I’m joining Sumano on a scientific expedition. He’s the lead on a team of agricultural scientists at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City (UNAM) that is tasked with the elaborate effort of rewilding that flat-faced, googly-eyed creature in the spray painting: the axolotl. The axolotl is a critically endangered aquatic salamander that’s native to only Lake Xochimilco, where I’m currently visiting Sumano. (All interviews were conducted in Spanish.)



Rewilding is the process of restoring an ecosystem to its natural, uncultivated state. A progressive approach to conservation, it ensures a healthy future where nature can once again take care of itself as it did before human intervention versus a future where a species is preserved in a zoo or lab. In the case of the axolotl, it is a process that can take up to three years, depending on what steps need to be taken in its selected sanctuary in the lake.



Seen from a bird’s eye view, the lake resembles more of a jigsaw puzzle: chunks of land with streams of water snaking through, dividing the pieces. Now the Xochimilco canals, this area exists as the only remaining part of a much-larger lake system that was eventually drained by the Mexican government to reduce flooding. Mostly known for its party boats called trajineras in Spanish, Lake Xochimilco is where foreigners and locals alike gather to celebrate birthdays or have a fun, booze-filled day with friends as they drift on the lake’s canals. The flat-bottomed wood boats are brightly painted and named after loved ones or Mexican phrases.

Link de art. completo: https://atmos.earth/mexico-axolotl-lake-xochimilco-endangered-rewilding/?utm_campaign=later-linkinbio-atmos&utm_content=later-28225509&utm_medium=social&utm_source=linkin.bio