Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, nestled in the foothills of West Bengal, has achieved rare distinction of breeding Salamanders, an endemic and one of the oldest amphibian creatures in the world.
Also known as Crocodile Newt, a sole representative of the order Caudata among the amphibian fauna of the Indian subcontinent, the species is a living fossil and is found at altitudes of 1500m - 2250m in cold climates of the Eastern Himalayan region."We have successfully bred them from six in numbers to 15 in the display enclosure which is a rare achievement. Now we plan to go for full-fledged breeding for Salamanders as decided by the Central Zoo Authority (CZA)," AK Jha, director of the Park told PTI.
The tiny amphibians usually breed in summer and over the cold winter months from October to March hibernate under leaf litter, decaying logs and in mud burrows beneath forests.
Constant human interference has threatened their habitat so much so that they now figure in the Red Data Book of IUCN and included in schedule No. I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 in the country.
Concerned at decline in its population, the PNHZ zoo officials, however took initiative to breed them in two natural water bodies within the Zoo premises and then later tried to breed them in a display enclosure too.
Jha said, "The salamanders in the Park owe their origin to Jorepokhri in the district from where they were rescued after construction work was started there in the year 2001.
Later on animals rescued from maneybhanjang, sonada were also brought, and were kept in captivity for display purpose when we tried to breed them," Jha explained.
But after several failed attempt and experiments, the results started accruing.
"Water was changed after every week. External food given was meat pieces of small size, earthworm. In addition a large bulb was kept on during evening which attracted insects, which were main food base of the animals.
"The bulb also helped in marinating temperature in the enclosure. Sand was put in the base of the enclosure with pebbles. This resulted in breeding.
"In August 2006 six tadpoles were seen which have turned into fully grown salamanders. We have atleast 15 creatures in captive," Jha said.
He added that the zoo has an ambitious plans to breed the tiny creature representing the eco-system for millions of years before it get totally extinct.
The modalities to breed the animal in captivity will be finalised by the end of this month, Jha said.
The Park has to its credit for successful breeding-in-captivity programmes for endangered animals namely snow leopard, the red panda and the Tibetan wolf.