Imported pet salamanders carry a new disease that could threaten salamander populations in New York state with extinction.
Wildlife veterinarian Beth Buntingwith the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, describes the new disease and asks people to report dead amphibians to New York State DEC or the Cornell Wildlife Health Lab.
Bunting is part of a team of researchers at Cornell, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Buffalo State University, Buffalo Zoo and The Smithsonian Institution studying how a similar disease, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) affects the Eastern Hellbender, one of only three species of giant salamanders in the world. The Eastern Hellbender population has declined by 40 percent in New York state. Bd has been responsible for declines and extinctions of over 200 species of amphibians worldwide over the last few decades.
“A new threat has been added to the list of problems facing amphibians worldwide: Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans or Bsal. First detected in 2010, this recently discovered species of chytrid fungus has caused mass mortalities in native European salamanders, pushing some populations to the brink of local extinction. The fungus infects and damages the skin, which amphibians depend on for exchange of oxygen, electrolytes, and immunity to other diseases.
“While Bsal has not been identified in the wild in North America, hundreds of thousands of salamanders from Asia – where the disease is thought to originate – are imported as pets annually, almost 2 million between 2005 and 2015. While state and federal agencies have moved quickly to reduce our risks by restricting the importation and interstate movement of about 200 salamander species, we need people to be vigilant too.
“State and federal wildlife agencies as well as amphibian researchers and conservation groups are very concerned that accidental introduction of Bsal into the wild could cause widespread extinctions of these vulnerable species.
“The Cornell Wildlife Health Lab at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine conducts surveillance with our partners at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), and we will be one of only a few laboratories to offer testing for the disease.
“If you find a dead amphibian, please report it to New York State DEC or the Cornell Wildlife Health Lab for further investigation. Vigilance and early detection will be key, which will require collaborative efforts between agencies, scientists, and the public.”