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Endangered Giant Salamander Is World's Biggest Amphibian

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South China giant salamander has been identified by researchers as possibly the largest amphibian ever lived.

Using DNA from museum specimens collected in the early 20th century, researchers from Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and London's Natural History Museum identified two new species of giant salamander - one of which they suspect is the biggest of around 8000 amphibians alive in the world today.

Reaching nearly two meters in length, Chinese giant salamanders are now classified as Critically Endangered.

Once widespread throughout central, southern and eastern China, harvesting for the luxury food trade has led to a collapse in their numbers, according to Prof. Samuel Turvey of ZSL, who is the study's lead author.

The research paper, published in the journal Ecology and Evolution, found three distinct genetic lineages in salamanders from different river systems and mountain ranges across China. They had previously been considered a single species.

The South China salamander, with the species name Andrias sligoi, is the largest of the three.

"Our analysis reveals that Chinese giant salamander species diverged between 3.1 and 2.4 million years ago. These dates correspond to a period of mountain formation in China as the Tibetan Plateau rose rapidly, which could have isolated giant salamander populations and led to the evolution of distinct species in different landscapes," said Turvey.

The decline in wild Chinese giant salamander numbers has been catastrophic, mainly due to recent over exploitation for food.

Turvey called for urgent measures to protect any viable giant salamander populations that might remain.

Salamanders are currently moved widely around China, for conservation translocation and to stock farms that cater for China's luxury food market. Turvey said the movement of these animals should be prohibited.

ZSL works in China to protect giant salamanders in the wild and to raise their profile through an exhibition at London Zoo.

Four salamanders, which were seized by Border Force in September 2016 after an attempt to illegally import them to the U.K., have been preserved at the zoo in the British capital.

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