The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Restricts Salamander Imports to Protect Native Species From Deadly Disease


In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and Save The Frogs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced a temporary rule restricting the importation of salamanders for the pet trade. The restriction is designed to prevent introduction of the deadly fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) into the United States. Bsal is a highly virulent pathogen from Asia, spreading through the salamander pet trade and killing wild salamanders, that has already nearly wiped out wild fire salamanders in the Netherlands and Belgium. With this rule the Service is trying to prevent introduction and spread of the disease across the United States.

"I'm ecstatic the Fish and Wildlife Service is taking action to protect our native salamanders from this deadly disease," said Jenny Loda, a Center biologist and attorney dedicated to protecting rare amphibians and reptiles. "With nearly 200 unique species of salamanders, the U.S. is a global hotspot for salamander biodiversity. This important step gives me hope that these amazing little guys will be around for the long haul."

Infected salamanders could enter the United States through commercial trade in salamanders, mostly imported as pets. Two million live salamanders have been imported into the United States over the past 10 years; 70 percent of these salamanders (1.4 million) were Chinese and Japanese newts within the Cynops genus, a group of amphibians expected to act as carriers of the disease.

Over a year ago a published study revealed that Bsal is lethal to salamanders in the United States, and scientists and conservation groups called on the Fish and Wildlife Service to take swift action to suspend salamander imports to prevent the spread of this disease. In the past year Bsal has spread to Germany, and Bsal infections were discovered in three species of European salamanders imported to the United Kingdom.

Bsal is a relative of the better-known killer chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), one of the major drivers of amphibian declines and extinctions throughout the world. Bd has contributed to declines of numerous species in the United States and is a primary factor in the rapid decline of mountain yellow-legged frog populations.

"We are lucky to have the rare opportunity to prevent this deadly disease from entering the U.S. and causing the same type of devastation we saw with Bd," said Kerry Kriger, executive director of Save The Frogs. "I am so glad to see the Fish and Wildlife Service stepping up to take action to protect our native salamanders."

Bsal is especially lethal to newts, including the eastern newt, a widespread species found across 33 states. The disease also poses a severe threat to rare populations of salamanders, especially given that one-third of the nation's salamanders are already at risk of extinction from threats like habitat loss and climate change. Bsal infections could extirpate remaining populations of the striped newt, a rare species that has been a candidate for Endangered Species Act protection since 2011.

"At a time when the introduction of devastating animal diseases -- like the pathogens that have wiped out millions of bats in the eastern United States and frog populations across the country -- have become all too common, it's incredible to see proactive steps being taken to protect our wildlife," said Loda.

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

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