The Monster of Chongqing And A Most Generous Christmas Present For Prague Zoo

Director´s view

Miroslav Bobek  |  21. 12. 2015


The story originated on Chinese news websites but owes its runaway pan-European success to an article in the British Daily Mail – and to its over-the-top headline:
Monster from the deep: Extremely rare giant salamander measuring a whopping 4ft 7in discovered in remote cave in China

Karlo, Prague Zoo Karlo, Prague Zoo

The article goes on to say that this truly extraordinary specimen was found near the city of Chongqing and that it is estimated to be 200 years old. To put it simply – wow!

On Chinese farms, giant salamanders are bred on a massive scale, but in the wild their numbers are falling, and when a large specimen is found, it attracts a lot of attention. And when a hoary salamander of such an impressive size is found in the wild, it creates nothing less than a sensation.
Preposterous phrases like “monster from the deep” (giant salamanders actually live in shallow rivers) would have made me take the news with a pinch of salt – had it not been for the accompanying photos and video. No doubt about it: they show a really large and old giant salamander. So what did they say his size was, you ask? Actually, we don’t even need to convert feet and inches into meters and centimeters. We can read it off the tape measure shown in one of the pictures capturing the moment the salamander was being measured: the amphibian is almost 140 cm long.

A giant, that is – nonetheless, still no match for Karlo, who lives in Prague Zoo’s Giant Salamander House. Surprising though it may be, Karlo, our giant-salamander male, is indeed even longer, clocking in at 158 centimeters.

On the other hand, you only need to take one look at the giant salamander of Chongqing to get the impression that this is a much bulkier animal than Karlo. The news story put its weight at 114 pounds, i.e. just under 52 kilograms, while Karlo has 35 kilos now. The giant salamander found in China is, also, certainly older than our Karlo, but he can hardly be two hundred years old. He could be sixty, maybe eighty – perhaps even a hundred. But more than that? Extremely unlikely. Karlo, whom we can still look upon as a youngster, is now around forty years old. He was probably around ten when, in the early 1980s, he was confiscated from smugglers and placed in the State Museum of Natural History in Karlsruhe. It was from there that we originally obtained him on loan for a year.

The extraordinary salamander that has been found near the city of ChongqingThe extraordinary salamander that has been found near the city of Chongqing

When we were inaugurating the Giant Salamander House last year, we boasted, albeit still with some hesitation, that Karlo was probably the largest giant salamander in Europe. Since then, Petr Velenský, our colleague, has inquired into the matter – all over the world, not just in Europe – but he did not find a single specimen anywhere in the world that was larger than Karlo. And even now – having just beaten back this humongous challenge from the Giant Salamander of Chongqing – Karlo remains the reigning champion. What does this mean for us? Well, we can now boast – reserving the right to eat our words – that Prague probably hosts the largest giant salamander on the planet! Which would mean that we host the largest amphibian in general...

So let’s say it again, boldly and in bold: In Prague, you can see what appears to be the largest living Chinese Giant Salamander specimen in the world!

No, I am not getting carried away by my enthusiasm; no, I am not forgetting that Karlo is here on loan from Karlsruhe. For here comes another giant salamander announcement, perhaps the “giantest” of all giant salamander announcements: The loan period granted by Karlsruhe has been growing longer and longer – and at this point we can be certain that Karlo will be staying in our zoo for good. He has now become a permanent resident of Prague Zoo! This is a great credit to our keepers and, at the same time, it is the most beautiful Christmas present we could wish for.

Thank you, Baby Jesus! We at Prague Zoo were looking forward to unwrapping our presents under the Christmas tree, but we certainly did not expect to be experiencing such joy.

Karlo, Prague ZooKarlo, Prague Zoo

Miroslav Bobek, Director of Prague Zoo