Changing exploitation threatens Chinese giant salamanders.
A series of large-scale social science interview surveys across the range of giant salamanders (Andrias) in China was conducted to understand levels of its exploitation by different user groups. It was shown that people from rural households living close to potential giant salamander habitat (2932 interviews) were generally familiar with these amphibians, and had many traditions associating giant salamanders with dead babies and bad luck. Few rural people had ever used giant salamanders for traditional medicine, but a substantial number had eaten them in the past (with about a quarter of older respondents having eaten them). Twenty-five of the farms that we surveyed reported possessing wild-caught giant salamanders, most of which were obtained locally, and almost half of the farms reported a preference for wild stock. However, officials in only seven of 115 counties had issued permits to allow the collection of giant salamanders from the wild. 835 interviews with potential end-consumers in three Chinese cities revealed widespread consumption of giant salamanders, associated with a demand for high-prestige rare meat. These findings provide indirect evidence that Chinese giant salamander populations were probably already declining from the 1980s or earlier, due to local consumption or exploitation for trade. There is an important gap in the effectiveness of China's conservation protection for some of its highest-priority threatened species.