SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — The reward for information related to salamanders that have gone missing from the San Marcos National Fish Hatchery and Technology Center is now sitting at $20,000 thanks to a second $5,000 donation by the Center for Biological Diversity.
On Nov. 25, 2016 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service was made aware that 253 Texas Blind Salamanders and 110 San Marcos Salamanders were missing from the San Marcos facility. The department is now trying to determine if the salamanders were stolen or possibly eaten by another animal.
“It’s surprising to me that someone would deliberately try to hurt conservation actions that are very important to this region,” said Aquatic Resources Center Director Kenneth Ostrand. “If it was an animal, we would have seen some signs of that.” The salamanders were housed in indoor aquariums about four feet off the ground.
The Texas Blind Salamander, an endangered species, is a rare cave-dwelling amphibian native to San Marcos, specifically the San Marcos Pool of the Edwards Aquifer. The salamander is approximately five inches long and has blood-red external gills for absorbing oxygen from the water.
Without the missing salamanders, the facility is only left with 20 Texas Blind Salamanders. On average, Ostrand says the center is lucky to hatch around 50 to 60 blind salamanders a year. The salamanders are housed at the facility to help repopulate the species.
“We serve as a backup to actually put animals back into the wild so that we can continue to use our water and also still have our native Texans still hanging out with us,” said Ostrand.
Ostrand says his divers are out actively searching for new salamanders to restock their tanks. He says the ones they are able to catch have been pushed out of the spring and would most likely be consumed by fish. “The first week we started our diving efforts, we came back with one blind salamander. We’re in a good situation because spring flows are so high right now. I would be very, very nervous if this would have occurred two years ago when we were right at the onset of a horrendous drought that would last a long, long time.”
Ostrand says that the center does have cameras, but they were unable to see any activity the night the salamanders went missing.
The reward will be issued if the missing salamanders are determined to be a criminal act and the information provided leads to the criminal conviction of the person responsible.
Anyone with information about the missing salamanders is urged to contact USFWS at 210-681-8419. Callers may remain anonymous.