A Mexican axolotl baby was found by a family when they were visiting a church in Caracas. The young of the amphibian - critically endangered - was inside a small bag that was left under an image of the Virgen del Carmen, recognized within Catholic belief as the patron of the sea and sailors.
After the discovery of this species, unique in its physical and genetic characteristics, the family called the veterinarian, plastic artist and director of the Fundación Plumas y Colas en Libertad, Grecia Marquís, who offered an interview to the RT web portal to explain how it was the rescue of the animal.
«When we received it, it was a baby, a tiny animal that was about 7 centimeters tall and had no legs. He has already been with me for a month and his limbs have come out, he is in a juvenile state, he has grown quite a bit and is about 12 centimeters tall, ”explains Marquís.
The veterinary doctor highlights that during the axolotl's stay at its foundation, located in a wooded area of Greater Caracas, the small vertebrate has shown that it is docile and friendly. «He eats a lot and does it with my hand, because they are friendly animals. They are carnivores, I give them dried shrimp or pieces of raw chicken that have been frozen before to avoid bacteria. He is very voracious and eats a small spoonful of protein every day.
Marquís, who has 20 years of experience working with animals and wildlife, adds that the axolotl "is one of the most impressive, wonderful and strange animals on the planet", because it is an amphibian that does not metamorphose, as is the case with the Salamander ; and it is capable of regenerating parts and tissues of your body.
“It is impressive how it can regenerate its body, making it the only vertebrate capable of regenerating its limbs and tissues in its lungs, heart, eyes, ovaries, spinal cord and brain. It does this thanks to its genetic load, its genome, which is ten times greater than that of humans, hence its incredible capabilities.
Marquís highlights that the axolotl, whose scientific name is Ambystoma mexicanum, is one of the animals most studied by scientists, since its regenerative characteristics could be key to finding a cure against cancer.
The axolotl is a long-lived animal that can live in its natural habitat for about 10 years and in captivity for up to 20. It can also grow to 25 centimeters and feeds mainly on mollusks, worms, insect larvae, crustaceans and some small fish.
They are oviparous and capable of reproducing once a year with two methods: one sexual and the other asexual. Females can lay 100 to 300 eggs, but not all will hatch. They take between 10 and 14 days to be born.
Marquís explains that the destruction of natural environments has become a global problem that affects all species. For example, he says, in Venezuela there is currently an indiscriminate felling of trees that is destroying the natural habitat of many species that puts biodiversity and the ecosystem at risk.
«In Caracas and throughout the country there is a massive logging that directly affects everyone's life. When a tree is cut down, raptors lose their nesting places and the opportunity to feed. Furthermore, with the felling of each tree a small world of very valuable biodiversity is eliminated, which kills the life of colonies of insects, invertebrates, nests of birds and mammals such as squirrels, rabipelados, sloths, porcupines, among others ”.
What does the Fundación Plumas y Colas en Libertad do?
Marquís, who has a master's degree in Environmental Management, explains that from the Foundation with which he has worked for 15 years, in addition to ensuring the different species that are injured after being rescued by activists, they carry out a campaign to raise awareness about the trafficking of wild animals, the importance of their living in freedom and the conservation of their habitats.
The campaign, called 'Pet or prisoner', seeks to generate empathy with animals such as birds, turtles, iguanas, monkeys, snakes, among others, which are usually sold by traffickers on the country's roads. “What we want is for people to feel what a caged or chained animal can experience, when it must live in freedom. A pet welcomes you happily, wagging its tail, running around the house, but not a small animal locked up or with a chain around its neck as happens with monkeys ».
Although in Venezuela there are laws that condemn the trafficking and possession of wild animals, Marquís believes that despite the work of the authorities in recent years, there is still much to do. “The entities that regulate and monitor, such as Guardería Ambiental (of the Bolivarian National Guard), which has a large participation, must have a greater presence on the roads to confront animal traffickers. It is not only to do educational campaigns so that people do not buy wild animals, wildlife trafficking has to be punished. There must be punishment and vigilance.
Marquís points out that when the authorities seize animals from traffickers, they should also try to return them to their natural habitats and not lock them in a zoo, where they are deprived of their freedom for life. “From my experience, when I receive these animals that were once free, I evaluate how I can help them to return to freedom and not remain in captivity. That is why the most beautiful experiences I have are liberations ».
How do you finance your work?
The Foundation that Marquís directs works through self-management, since it does not have private or government financial support.
The few resources it manages to care for the animals they rescue are obtained through donations and the sale of paintings and other pieces of art that she makes herself.
«The current economic situation has made the sale of art a bit difficult, but I still do it. I also make calls for people to contribute what they can, because all donations are valuable.
The foundation run by Dr. Marquís is located in La Trinidad, in the state of Miranda, near the so-called Bosque del Volcán, between the municipalities of Baruta and El Hatillo, a place that - she warns - is being damaged by recurrent human activity that it has been on the rise to carry out tourist and sports activities.