I learned about Axolotls from the “Strange Animals” edition of ZooBooks growing up, and it was only much later that I learned how sad their story is.
So, nearly 700 years ago, the Axolotl was comfortably in its niche. Instead of metamorphosing like most amhibians, it keeps its baby-like gills throughout adulthood. This way, it could avoid land-dwelling predators, staying in the large, predator-free Central Mexican lake system. Then, some folks saw a random act of predation on an island and decided to build their capital there.
Nearly 200 years later, some other guys showed up, and decided they liked the place, and wanted to move in. So they tore the place down, and invited all their friends.
Here’s what the area looked like in 1519:
Here’s what it looks like now:
As Mexico City expanded, the lakes were drained… and drained… and drained. As their habitat shrunk, the Axolotls had nowhere to go, and are now Critically Endangered.
That isn’t to say they’re rare, though. They breed easily in captivity, and have the ability to grow back lost limbs, so they are found in aquariums and research facilities throughout the world. I’m not sure how helpful that is, because looking at the Extinct in the Wild list is really depressing.
But! People have started to use the Axolotl as a flagship species, and people are doing what they can to save this little babyface.