The RSPCA is warning parents to resist buying their children pet axolotls this Christmas amid a ‘craze’ sparked by the popular video game Minecraft.
The charity is urging prospective owners of the exotic amphibians, which are native to Mexico, that they have ‘complex needs’ and providing appropriate care for them in a domestic environment will likely prove challenging.
There are now ‘signs of a growing interest’ in purchasing the animals, the RSPCA says, in part due to their addition in June this year to the hugely successful computer game Minecraft, in which players can create structures from raw materials and interact with animals – such as axolotls – in an open environment with their friends.
The animal’s popularity within the game, which has 140 million active players worldwide, is evident from their frequent appearances in popular Minecraft players’ YouTube videos, with some raking in millions of views.
And parenting forum Mumsnet has been inundated with discussions about pre-teens who want the pets – or axolotl-themed goodies – as a gift this winter.
But the RSPCA is now warning parents to ‘resist their kids’ pleas for a pet axolotl – or any other exotic pet – this Christmas’.
The RSPCA is urging prospective owners of axolotls, which are native to Mexico, that they have ‘complex needs’ and providing appropriate care for them in a domestic environment will likely prove challenging
Parenting forum Mumsnet has been inundated with discussions about pre-teens who want the pets – or axolotl-themed goodies – as a gift this winter
THE ENDANGERED AMPHIBIANS THAT BECAME THIS YEAR’S BUZZ LIGHTYEAR
Axolotls are carnivorous paedomorphic salamanders which were originally found in several lakes underlying Mexico City.
They live on average between 10 and 15 years in the wild, can grow up to 12 inches, and are only native to the freshwater of Lake Xochimilco and Lake Chalco in the Valley of Mexico.
Lake Chalco does not exist any more, having been drained as a flood control measure, and Lake Xochimilco now exists mainly as canals.
The axolotl is currently on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s annual Red List of threatened species.
Potential owners are warned that they are a huge commitment, requiring a large tank with good water filtration and heating.
They need regular water changes, veterinary care if they become ill and someone to care for them during holidays and other times away.
They are atypical among amphibians because they reach adulthood without going through metamorphosis, remaining aquatic and gilled instead of taking to the land as adults.
As of 2020 they are near extinction, in part because of the urbanisation of Mexico City and the following water pollution.
Other factors include the introduction of invasive species like the tilapia and perch.
They are extensively used in scientific research because of their ability to regenerate limbs, gills and parts of their eyes and brains.
Axolotls have also been sold as food in Mexican markets and were a staple in the Aztec diet.
The charity wrote in a statement: ‘Unfortunately many people are unaware of how much of a commitment axolotls and other exotic pets are when they take them on.
‘We believe that the decision to acquire one should not be taken lightly as impulse-buying risks animals suffering as people may not fully understand what is needed to care for them properly.’
One YouTube video from user ‘OMGcraft – Minecraft Tips & Tutorials’, which teaches viewers how to get a pet axolotl in the game, has more than 1.3million views.
Another video from user ‘GeorgeNotFound’, titled ‘Minecraft, But My Friend Is An Axolotl’, has more than 20million views.
In one Mumsnet thread revealing what 10-year-olds were asking for this Christmas, parents said they had been pestered to get axolotls as pets.
One user wrote: ‘My (dear daughter), 11, has been pestering me for an Axolotl.’
Another said: ‘My 10-year-old niece is desperate for an axolotl too. Must be the current thing.’
A third wrote: ‘I have two obsessed with Minecraft who want an axolotl too.’
RSPCA Senior scientific manager Dr Ros Clubb said: ‘Looking after exotic pets is very challenging as they have the same environmental, diet and behavioural requirements as their relatives in the wild.
‘We’re particularly concerned when new pet trends such as axolotls emerge as exotic pets often end up in our care later down the line when people realise they’re not easy to care for, or once the novelty wears off.
‘Playing with an axolotl in Minecraft is one thing, but taking on the care of a real live axolotl is a whole different matter. These amphibians need care and attention for their entire lives, which can be 15 years – long after the kids may have flown the nest.’
Dr Clubb added: ‘As well as investing in the correct set-up, including a large tank with good water filtration and heating, they need regular water changes, veterinary care if they become ill and someone to care for them during holidays and other times away. It’s a big commitment. They also shouldn’t be handled, so will kids still be interested months or years down the line?’
The RSPCA warns that the ‘axolotl/Minecraft phenomenon’ threatens to have similar consequences as previous media-related trends.
The animal’s popularity within the game, which has 140 million active players worldwide, is evident from their frequent appearances in popular Minecraft players’ YouTube videos, with some raking in millions of views
WHAT IS MINECRAFT?
Minecraft was created in 2009. At the start of the game, a player is put into a ‘virtually infinite game world.’
They can then walk around different terrains, including mountains, forests and caves.
Players can also fly up in the air for a birds-eye view of the landscape.
Players are given blocks and tools to build towns and cities.
As a player progresses they can earn advanced tools and building blocks in different materials.
The game was initially made for the PC but there are now Xbox 360 and mobile versions available.
Players can now enter virtual reality, with the game launching for the Oculus Rift.
‘For example, following the release of the Compare the Market advert in 2009, calls about meerkats to our cruelty and advice line rose by 184% the following year,’ the charity said.
‘Similarly, there was an upsurge in the trade in terrapins following the release of the film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and increases have been recorded in the trade in iguanas following the release of Jurassic Park and in clownfish after the Finding Nemo film was released.
‘The axolotl phenomenon underscores some of the issues highlighted in a recent report into exotic pets published jointly by us and Born Free, which says current laws are inadequate and need an urgent overhaul.’
Dr Clubb added: ‘Exotic pets should never be an impulse buy. Potential owners need to make sure they can give their animal the environment it needs and that they have the facilities, time, financial means and long-term commitment to maintain a good standard of care.’
She continued: ‘We encourage potential owners to read books written by experts on the particular species they wish to keep and to join member societies where there are experienced keepers who can help if they are struggling. Specialist vets are also an excellent source of support and advice for owners.’