London Zoo unveils smuggled salamander found in Coventry

A rare Chinese giant salamander found in a cereal box after smugglers tried to import him has gone on display at London Zoo.

The zoo said the salamander, named Professor Lew, was “a big hit with keepers” who had been finding excuses to visit him.

He was among five of the critically-endangered salamanders found in the box at a postal hub in Coventry in 2016.

Border Force asked the zoo to look after four surviving animals.

Ben Tapley, the Zoological Society of London‘s (ZSL) curator of amphibians, said staff worked closely with Border Force to identify unusual creatures.

“But even I was astonished to see that they were Chinese giant salamanders – one of the world‘s most critically endangered amphibians,” he said.

“Chinese giant salamanders may not be everyone‘s idea of beautiful – I‘ve heard them described as giant brown blobs with eyes – but Professor Lew‘s crinkly purple tail and slimy smile have already made the newcomer a big hit with all our keepers, who have been finding any excuse to visit the Reptile House.”

The ZSL said the species was under threat after becoming a delicacy in China and was “thought to have inspired Chinese dragon legends and even the iconic yin-yang motif”.

Mr Tapley said the creatures were often referred to as “living fossils”.

“Chinese giant salamanders have remained largely unchanged for millions of years,” he said.

Professor Lew will eventually be joined by one of the other seized salamanders as a potential mate, with the other two likely to go to other UK zoos.

Keepers have made a new enclosure for the salamander, which is believed to be four years old. It could grow six times its current length of 30cm (11in).