Dominican Conservation Efforts Save Endangered Species of Salamanders

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MEXICO – Two dozen Dominican sisters live together in a convent next door to the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Salud. But the sisters aren’t the only ones who call the convent home – endangered salamanders find their refuge in the walls of the holy house.

Your biology textbook would refer to the species as Ambystoma dumerilii, but the sisters (and the entire town) call them achoques. 300 achoques reside with the sisters, who support themselves by selling a cough syrup made from the salamander’s skin.

The species isn’t faring so well outside of the convent, though. The colony of achoques who live with the sisters is the largest colony known. Everywhere else, the species is going extinct.

“That is why we consider that the nuns will be very vital in the future,” Gerardo Garcia, a curator and expert on endangered species at the Chester Zoo in England, said in an interview with the New York Times.

Before bringing the salamanders into the walls of the convent, the sisters made their cough syrup using salamanders who lived in the nearby lake. But when the salamanders (who can grow up to 12 inches in length!) started dissapearing, the sisters knew they had to do something. “What would we do – not make any syrup?” Sister Ofelia said in an interview. “It’s about protecting a species from nature. If we don’t work to take care of it, to protect it, it will disappear from creation.”

Visitors to the convent can buy the cough syrup, which supports the Dominican order. A mural in the room where the cough syrup is sold shows the local lake, where salamanders swim.

The conservation work of the sisters is a testament to the beautiful intertwining of Catholicism and the advance of scientific research. “Being part of a religious order like ours is not an obstacle for scientific progress,” said Sister Ofelia.

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