Axolotls are the new trendy animal. In the early 2000s, owls could be found on every shirt and accessory, llamas followed suit and are still going strong. And now, we have axolotls.
But with trendiness comes ethical issues.
What is an Axolotl
The Axolotl is an unique creature rooted in mythology and culture. Originally named for an Aztec God, the Axolotl is a type of salamander (not a fish!) that is exclusively found in Lake Xochimilco, near Mexico City. Deeply rooted in the history, culture, and tradition of Mexico, they are typically a greenish brown color (to better hide from predators), with the trendy pink ones being bred for their appeal as personal pets.
The unique characteristic of Axolotls is that they are “neotenic,” maintaining juvenile characteristics well into adulthood. This trait is not typical for other species of salamander.
Surprisingly, very little is know of this specie; most information has been obtained via laboratories and they maintain much of the mystery they held when first considered to be an ancient God. Biologically, they are very young, having existed for only about 10,000 years.
Is it ethical to have an Axolotl as a pet
Axolotls are very popular pets; it is difficult to resist their cute faces. But, in the context of their history, and the fact that they are critically endangered, it raises an important question that, although legal, is it ethical to have them as pets?
In researching the ethics of owning an Axolotl, I found that there are two principal categories of ethics to consider:
The first is whether it is okay to have them as pets. This seems to be a frequently raised question within the aquatic community. Axolotls are critically endangered, so does pet ownership help or harm an already delicate existence? The answer is neither. The Axolotls bred for the aquarium trade are not the same breed that is found naturally in Lake Xochimilco. Their extinction is, as mentioned above, caused by pollution, predators, and consumption. Having them as pets may have positive impacts such as helping to raise awareness of the Axolotl and the threats they are facing, and promoting Mexican culture. There is a deeper question about whether the exotic pet trade and captive breeding is ethical, but that is a topic to be explored at another time.
The second is that you are making a personal ethical decision on whether or not to have them as pets. As the Department of Education of Australia shares, Axolotls are high maintenance. Their habitat requires very specific space requirements, they are hostile to most other fish and species, and they require frequent cleaning of their habitat. This high level of care warrants sufficient research, and a high level of commitment when deciding to add these creatures to your home. If you cannot maintain the requirements needed for the Axolotl to thrive, then it would not be ethical for you to have them as a pet, and it would be better ways to show your appreciation for them.
Do trends help or harm animals
I don’t have a well researched answer to this yet, but from my own observation I would conclude that it depends. Trends bring something to popularity quickly, and that spotlight can be a positive opportunity to educate and advocate – the trendiness of Axolotls right now is a great opportunity to raise awareness and can potentially help to shape the narrative to prevent their extinction.
At the same time, trends are just that, trendy, short lived, hyper fixations that soon get replaced by something new. The short term fascination with a trendy animal often results in rapidly lost interest (advocacy may slow down), or animal abuse resulting from discarding unwanted pets or inappropriate care from insufficient research.
I will not be getting an Axolotl as a pet, but will advocate for them in other ways. There is a lot more to learn regarding ethical pet ownership of this unique creature, and the best ways to help restore their population. I will continue to admire their cuteness, and take the time to educate myself further; all of the points discussed in this post possess deeper levels to explore and understand.
Trendy or not, this is the most ethical decision that I can make at this time.