The canopy of a tropical forest.
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Ranger Discovers Long Lost Species On Lunch Break (Photos)

| by Selena Darlim
The canopy of a tropical forest.

Ramos Leon-Tomas was eating his lunch on the boundary of Guatemala's Finca San Isidro Amphibian Reserve when he noticed something that had never been seen by anyone in the entirety of his life.

Though he wasn't certain at the time, 27-year-old Leon-Tomas had witnessed Jackson's climbing salamander for the first time in 42 years.

Two American conservationists discovered two specimens of the gold and black salamander in 1975, according to The Guardian. It hasn't been seen since.

Carlos Vasquez-Almazan, amphibian coordinator with the Foundation for Ecodevelopment and Conservation, knows how special it is to find the elusive amphibian. The Global Wildlife Conservation named it among the 25 most wanted "lost" species in early 2017.

"Having found this species is like having returned it from extinction," said Vasquez-Almazan, who also serves as the curator of herpetology at the University of San Carlos of Guatemala, according to National Geographic.

The salamander is not particularly astounding, measuring only 2.5 inches long, but amphibian experts like Jonathan Kolby relish at the ability to find any species still alive.

"Hundreds of species are now being pushed closer and closer toward extinction due to habitat loss, pollution, and a global emerging infectious disease event caused by the spread of chytrid fungus," Kolby said. "Despite this global conservation challenge, I remain hopeful that many species of amphibians already at the brink of extinction are still within our grasp to save."

Vasquez-Almazan has personally gone on 30 expeditions to find the salamander, which is also known as the "golden wonder" because of its color and rarity. He trained the rangers of the Cuchumatanes Mountains to look for the species and left a poster of it so they could "see a picture of Jackson's climbing salamander every single day," The Guardian reports.

"I took [deep breaths] for a couple of hours until they managed to send me a photo through WhatsApp, because the region is remote and there is little good internet signal," Vasquez-Almazan said. "It was definitely the sought-after and awaited Jackson’s climbing salamander."

Leon-Tomas says he is "very enthusiastic" to have found the specimen, which appears to be a juvenile. Hailing from the Q'anjob'al Mayan community, he describes himself as "a poor person with children." He hopes the discovery will bring more support to the rangers of his community.

The GWC will not remove the salamander from its "lost" species list as of yet. The population size of the salamander is still unknown, although it is likely to be endangered.

Researchers at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology of University of California at Berkeley are already planning expeditions to search for more specimens. The most recent discovery gives them a better idea of where to look, since it was found nearly 1,000 feet higher in elevation than the animal was thought to live.

Sources: The Guardian, National Geographic / Featured Image: Pixabay / Embedded Images: Carlos Vasquez Almazan via The Guardian

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