New Zealand’s pet shelters are inundated with axolotls. Are Minecraft and TikTok to blame? | New Zealand

An axolotl boom is seeing thousands of smiling amphibians pile up in New Zealand’s pet sanctuaries, with some blaming their newfound popularity on Minecraft, TikTok and other online games.

Emma Neale, who leads an amphibian, reptile and animal rescue in Dunedin, said she now has 2,000 axolotls in her care, after 600 of the creatures arrived last week. “So if anyone is looking for an axolotl, feel free to send it to me,” she said.

Neale said some inexperienced owners fail to de-sex their pets or accidentally place breeding pairs together in tanks. Amphibians in love ended up “having accidental claws and [owners are] not knowing what to do with the eggs…then ending up with literally thousands of them and not being able to find them a home,” she said.

“They can produce a large number of eggs,” said Alison Vaughan, chief scientist of the SPCA. “This situation can spiral out of control very quickly.”

Axolotls are considered critically endangered in the wild, but are widely bred in captivity. Their growth has been driven in part by their popularity online, where their little faces, with a constant smile, are well suited for memes and shareable videos.

The creatures were a hit on TikTok, where their hashtag racked up 2.6 billion views.

Axie Infinity, an online game where players battle cartoon axolotls, peaked at around 2.7 million users in November last year. However, perhaps the biggest contributor to the axolotl revival might be Minecraft, the hugely popular children’s world-building game, where amphibians were introduced as companion creatures in 2021.

Google’s trend reports indicate that searches for axolotls peaked when Minecraft introduced them in July 2021, but have remained high ever since. Internationally, outlets started reporting last year that axolotls had become a hot new pet for kids playing Minecraft.

But animal care experts say some owners are naive about the commitment involved. Dr Helen Beattie of Veterinarians for Animal Welfare said she had been concerned since last year when she said an increasing number of children had started asking their parents for pet axolotls.

“Just when Minecraft introduced the ability to spawn said axolotls into the program – there were concerns at that time about the demands children were then making of their parents to get the real deal,” he said. she stated. “They are not easy pets… They have very specific needs.”

Danni Mokomoko, running Wellington Amphibian and Reptile Rescue, said the rescue received 25 axolotls that arrived last week. He thought their growing popularity might have something to do with Minecraft.

Mokomoko said many people don’t understand the effort it takes to keep an axolotl – the rescue had asked ‘hundreds of people’ to adopt over the past two weeks, but most evaporated when asked. talked about the equipment and treatment needed to keep an axolotl healthy and happy.

Neale was skeptical that Minecraft alone could explain the high number of axolotls, saying she attributed the growth more to irresponsible breeding. She also said they make great pets – as long as families are prepared and do proper research on tanks, food and care. For those considering picking one up, the translucent creatures aren’t a short-term experience – they can live up to 25 years.

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