Chinese giant salamander conservation

Chinese Giant Salamander

The Chinese giant salamander is ranked second of more than 4,000 amphibians on the EDGE amphibians list, which prioritises Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) species for conservation attention.

The Chinese giant salamander has been identified as the EDGE amphibian most in need of conservation action.

Why we are there

The Critically Endangered Chinese giant salamander is the world’s largest living amphibian, reaching lengths of more than 1.8m. It belongs to a small and ancient group of salamanders that diverged from their closest relatives during the Jurassic period over 170 million years ago.

Although revered by the Chinese for thousands of years, Chinese giant salamanders are threatened today by over-harvesting for human consumption. In China, salamander farming has been encouraged and is an important economic activity in some areas. It is believed that salamanders are taken from the wild and farmed as a luxury food item, and this over-harvesting has had a catastrophic effect on wild populations. China's Ministry of Agriculture supports widespread releases of farmed animals as a conservation measure. Paradoxically, this approach may be harmful to wild populations as it risks mixing genetic lineages and spreading wildlife pathogens.

China is a country experiencing a large economic boom and escalating levels of biodiversity loss, making conservation of the environment increasingly important, especially that of water resources and freshwater systems. The Chinese giant salamander is a 'flagship' species for China's freshwater river systems. Efforts to conserve it will play a vital role protecting the region’s habitats and biodiversity, as well as freshwater resources for the people of China.

How is ZSL helping to protect the Chinese giant salamander?

ZSL brought local and international stakeholders together in 2010, to identify what evidence is required to inform the conservation of wild populations of Chinese giant salamanders. ZSL and partner organizations, including the Kunming Institute of Zoology, Shaanxi Normal University and Guiyang University, with support from the Darwin Initiative, carried out what is believed to be the largest ever wildlife survey in Chinese conservation history:

  • Ecological surveys were carried out at 97 sites in 16 of the country's 23 provinces over a four-year period. During these surveys, only 24 live salamanders were found, and these animals likely represent recent releases or escapes from farms.
  • Range-wide community interview surveys supported the findings of our ecological surveys; the average time of last salamander sighting was 19 years ago.
  • Genetic analysis to understand the relationship between salamanders in different river systems and farms revealed that the Chinese giant salamander is actually a complex of several different (as yet undescribed) giant salamander species.
  • We have raised awareness among key stakeholders and the general public both in China, and internationally.

We have also strengthened the capacity of in-country partner organisations to undertake long-term conservation of this iconic species by training four Chinese EDGE Fellows.

In 2019 London Zoo welcomed Professor Lew: a Chinese giant salamander rescued by the UK Border Force.


Project information

Key species

Chinese giant salamander, second on the EDGE amphibians list and Critically Endangered 

People involved

  • Andrew Cunningham manages the Chinese Giant Salamander project
  • Shu Chen is the EDGE Fellow who coordinates the project 'A sustainable future for Chinese giant salamanders'

Partners and sponsors

  • Shaanxi Normal University
  • Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Gardens
  • Kunming Institute of Zoology.

Kindly funded by:

  • The Darwin Initiative
  • The National Ministry of Education, P. R. China
  • The National Natural Science Foundation of China
  • Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, Hong Kong
  • Mohamed bin Zayed, Species Fund
  • USFWS - Amphibians in Decline Fund
  • European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA)
  • IUCN Save Our Species
  • Synchronicity Earth

Useful links

Find out more on the Chinese Giant Salamander Conservation website and EDGE website or on the Facebook page A sustainable future for Chinese giant salamanders.

News & Blog links


Find out more about the fascinating Chinese giant salamander and the conservation work ZSL are doing to help save this Critically Endangered species.

Chinese Giant Salamander

This week's Curious Creature is the amazingly weird Chinese Giant Salamander.

Chinese giant salamander

Find out about how ZSL are working to save the Chinese giant salamander.

A screengrab from the Go for Salamander video

This film documents the awareness-raising campaign 'Go For Salamander' based in China.