Construction has begun on the largest artificial breeding and protection base for the endangered giant salamander in China.
The base in Jing'an County, in the eastern province of Jiangxi, will breed the amphibians for scientific research, the traditional Chinese medicine industry and for exhibition in aquariums.
Located in the Sanzhaolun Forest Park, the 10.83 million yuan (US$1.35 million) project is intended to breed 60,000 giant salamanders annually when it is completed by the end of next year.
The base, covering 10,000 square meters, would boost efforts to save the world's largest amphibian from extinction, said Li Xinfa, head of the Jing'an County Giant Salamander Research Center.
The number of wild giant salamanders has declined rapidly due to their value as a source of traditional Chinese medicine ingredients and as food, and due to poaching, loss of habitat and pollution.
It has been put on the list of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, and it is under state protection in China.
Salamanders have been used in the making of health and beauty products, as well as medicines to treat malaria, heavy-metal poisoning, Alzheimer's disease and cancer.
The giant salamander, also known as the "baby fish" because it makes noises like a baby crying, has existed for more than 350 million years.
It can be found in north, northwest, central and southern China, living in mountain streams at altitudes below 1,000 meters with plentiful vegetation and shallow water surrounded with caves and pools.
The Chinese giant salamander can grow up to one meter long and is one of the largest of the species. It has a broad head and mouth, with light coloring on it underside and black patches on top. Its four limbs are short and its tail accounts for more than half of its length.
Salamanders hunt at night and eat crabs, shrimp, aquatic insects, fish and frogs.
Jing'an county is one of China's major salamander production areas. The county set up China's first salamander research center in 1974, when artificial breeding began, and established a nature reserve for the species in 1976.
The number of artificially-bred salamanders stood at about 12,000 in Jing'an annually, 20 percent of the total in China, said Li.
The county had about 2,000 wild giant salamanders, and the number was around 20,000 in the whole country, Li said.
Chinese scientists have tried to release artificially-bred salamanders into the wild to boost the population.
Jing'an county was planning to build an ecological park specially for giant salamanders in the near future, Li said.
(Xinhua News Agency August 18, 2006)