A critically endangered salamander called the axolotl is getting some divine intervention courtesy of a group of nuns in Mexico. The BBC reports that The Sisters of Immaculate Health in the Mexican town of Patzcuaro have teamed up with scientists to breed—and potentially save—the species.
The freshwater axolotl can only be found in Mexico, where pollution, overfishing, and the introduction of invasive species threaten the salamanders. The odd-looking creature was a revered figure in Aztec mythology, and many in Mexico still believe in its spiritual powers. The axolotl's ability to regenerate its limbs and organs—even its brain and heart—has given it a medicinal and mystical appeal that has not gone unnoticed by scientists and spiritual leaders alike.
For decades, the nuns have been breeding a specific kind of axolotl called the achoque, found only in Lake Patzcuaro, which they have used to produce a natural cough medicine. The nuns wouldn't divulge how the cough syrup is made, stating only that the salamanders are a key ingredient. The contents of one $17 box of axolotl cough syrup on eBay include bee honey, axolotl, common bracket root, European walnut leaves, and other herbs.
The production of this medicinal supplement hasn't hurt the species, though. In fact, it may even be helping it, according to scientists who praised the nuns' expertise in axolotl breeding. Gerardo Garcia, a conservationist at the UK-based Chester Zoo, told the BBC that the nuns "have a fantastic genetic pool of achoques" which could eventually be reintroduced to the wild.
As for the nuns, breeding the species isn't merely a commercial enterprise, either. "It's not just important for us; it's important on a national and an international level because it's an endemic species, and if we don't try to save this species then nature will be lost," Sister Ofelia Morales Francisco tells the BBC.
To learn more about their program, check out the BBC's video below.