I have the fortune of living close to an award-winning Mexican nature photographer who is becoming recognized – by prestigious organizations such as National Geographic – as one of the world’s great photojournalists.
His name is Alejandro Prieto and the last time I talked to him he told me all about his successful project to photograph one of the world’s most elusive wild animals, the jaguar, in its native environment.
Now I am sitting down with Alex Prieto again to learn about the next hard-to-spot creature he has been focusing his camera on: Mexico’s extraordinary “Walking Fish,” the Axolotl (pronounced ajolote).
The species Ambystoma mexicanum is a kind of salamander which remains in its larval state all its life. It is not a fish at all, but it does have gills – feathery growths outside its body – as well as lungs. As if that were not enough, the axolotl can also breathe through its skin.
These abilities, however, pale before this amphibian’s true “super power:” it can regenerate not only its limbs, but just about every part of its body, including its heart and brain, for which reason Prieto calls it “the Peter Pan of exotic creatures.”
Naturally, these characteristics have made axolotls the subject of much research into ways to regenerate human body parts, especially since the recent sequencing of its complex genome. So you’d think the Mexican Walking Fish ought to be just about the most prized and protected creature on the planet – but if you had opened a newspaper a year ago you would have read that it was about to go extinct in its native habitat.
Why was such a thing allowed to happen?