The May species of the month: the Laos Knobby/Warty Newt (Laotriton laoensis). Getting up to speed…
This species of the month may end up more of a rant than anything… You see, the Laos Newt was discovered just over 10 years ago (not surprisingly, in Laos). It very rapidly became endangered in the wild, partially due to a small distribution (just over 4000 square kilometers) and habitat fragmentation, but almost exclusively due to capture and exportation for the pet trade.
The Laos Newt is a very beautiful and charismatic creature, from a beautiful country. They live in headwater streams in Northeast Laos and breed in the leaf litter of the pools at the headwaters. They breed in the cool fall season. They are a stunning and mysterious, new creature that any collector would want to have. This doesn’t make it OK to purchase a wild Laos Newt.
There is a difference between a “Laos Warty Newt” and a “Warty Newt.” Warty newts refer to a genre of newt from all over Asia, and while the ethics of trading wild caught Warty Newts are questionable, these are frequently captive bred. All Laos Newts I have ever seen on the market have been wild caught, and very few collectors have successfully bred them in captivity (I have begun to finally see some pictures of captive bred animals pop up). Despite the endangered status of the animal, and that there are Laotian people who have actual started acting as sentries to protect these animals from being poached, these animals still turn up for sale. I just saw a wild one for sale yesterday.
All we can really do for this species now is try to reclaim it, and try to reintroduce it. What is horribly depressing in this case is that there are so many wild animals still living in captivity, and we are having to reintroduce captive bred animals with a decreased genetic pool in their place.
I am not against the pet trade (I personally try to stay away from purchasing or collecting wild caught animals that are not for conservation purposes, but I can understand rare cases where this is appropriate), but this type of thing happens all the time when a new species is discovered in a nation that does not have the governmental infrastructure to prevent mass exportation. Please be aware of this sort of thing, and please do not support importation of rare wild animals. If you do purchase a non-rare wild caught animal, be certain it was obtained under ethical circumstances (I would say legal, but much of the time this sort of thing is, sadly, legal).