Over the Thanksgiving weekend of 2016, hundreds of endangered salamanders reportedly went missing from the San Marcos Aquatic Resources Center. There is no video surveillance documenting how the animals went missing, and there are no signs of forced entry into the facility, so where did all the creatures go? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to that question, and the facility continues to be stumped to this day.
It's unlikely that the critters all just walked up and out of their tanks on their own, like this New Zealand aquarium octopus did, so someone must have went out of their way to steal the animals.
There was a $15,000 reward for the safe return of the animals previously, but because time continues to slip through the hourglass without the safe return of the creatures, the reward has just been increased to $20,000, which illustrates the desperation to get them back.
Among the missing animals are 253 Texas blind salamanders and 110 San Marcos salamanders, all of which are protected due to their thinning wild numbers.
Image Credit: USFWS
Texas blind salamanders are quite distinct-looking. They're eye-less and have unique protruding gill-like structures on their necks, as shown above.
These creatures reportedly need special clean and well-oxygenated water and can’t effectively survive in the wild because of all the pollution that has been plaguing the region for decades.
The San Marcos Aquatic Resources Center helped combat these problems by giving the creatures a habitable environment to live in, hoping to preserve them and prevent their extinction. Unfortunately, that very goal is now endangered by whoever misplaced the animals.
“Losing hundreds of these amazing salamanders is a terrible blow to their conservation,” said Collette Adkins, an attorney and biologist with the Center. “The San Marcos facility served as a ‘Noah’s Ark’ that could preserve the fragile salamanders if they went extinct in the wild. The tragic loss of these animals threatens their very existence.”
It’s unknown if this was the act of animal activists who believe that animals should be set free rather than kept in captivity, or if it was the result of a really poor prank gone wrong. Nevertheless, stealing endangered animals comes with hefty legal penalties if a conviction is successful, including jail time and fines of up to $100,000.
“Someone out there knows who did this, and I really hope they’ll step forward and help secure justice for these animals,” Adkins continued.
Still, no leads have led to the animals’ whereabouts even to this day. Going on almost three months without hearing or seeing anything, there’s a strong likelihood that the animals may never be seen again. Hopefully, wherever they are, they’re surviving. The San Marcos Aquatic Resources Center reportedily still has around 20 of the salamanders in their posession, but breeding them is a slow process.
Anyone with information about the incident is urged to contact the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) as soon as possible.