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Keywords:

  • axolotl;
  • flagship species;
  • fresh water;
  • salamander;
  • tourism;
  • wetland conservation

The effectiveness of flagship species as a conservation tool is controversial, and amphibians are not usually regarded as meeting the strategic criteria that flagships demand. Capitalizing on the historical, cultural and economic importance of the Axolotl Ambystoma mexicanum at Lake Xochimilco, Mexico, a conservation programme for this species and its habitat was developed using the Axolotl as a flagship. The threats to the lake are complex and stem from the unsustainable use of its resources. The needs and livelihoods of local stakeholders must therefore be taken into account before attempting to address the threats. The programme therefore focused on developing nature tourism by training local boatmen (remeros) in environmental interpretation. Surveys showed that the boatmen increased their incomes and job satisfaction after training, and that the environmental interpretation programme improved relevant knowledge and awareness of visitors. Although ongoing threats mean that reintroduction of captive-bred Axolotls is not appropriate, zoos with captive populations of Axolotls supported the programme regionally and internationally by providing publicity, funds, staff expertise, training support and themed educational activities. By raising both funds and awareness for the wider conservation of Lake Xochimilco, the Axolotl is probably the first amphibian flagship to be launched successfully.