In the wooded mountains of Catalonia, in northeastern Spain, there lives a charismatic, speckled species of newt. Named after the mountains they call home, the Montseny newts are among the most endangered amphibians in the world: they live exclusively in this one mountainous region, and they've only ever been found in seven local streams. What's more, that tiny habitat is under serious threat. If ever there was a slimy little critter in need of some good news, it's this one. And here it is: the Montseny newts have just been successfully bred for the first time outside of Catalonia!

For a decade, the Catalan government and Barcelona Zoo have been working together to breed these newts in captivity and restore their native habitats in the Montseny Natural Park and Biosphere Reserve. Recently, the Chester Zoo in the United Kingdom became the first institution outside of Catalonia to join this conservation programme.

The conservationists at Chester created a specialised breeding facility to house two dozen newts – separated for safety from all the other amphibians – and it paid off. Twelve bouncing baby Montseny newts, the first ever born anywhere except their native country, arrived this month. But first, zoo staff were treated to the ... er, entrancing mating dance of the adults: 

The Montseny newt is classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. Only a handful of populations are known in an area smaller than ten square kilometres (six square miles). The species has declined heavily in the last several years, and it's estimated that no more than 1,500 adults exist in the world.

The cold streams the newts live in, meanwhile, are shrinking as water is extracted for bottling, and a changing climate is disrupting their woodland habitats. A small population in an unstable environment is a recipe for disaster.

All together, this makes the Montseny newt "without doubt, one of the most endangered species in Europe", according to Gerardo Garcia, Curator of Lower Vertebrates and Invertebrates at the Chester Zoo. "It is teetering perilously close to the brink of extinction and requires immediate action if we are to establish more numbers and save them."

Since 2007 (two years after the species was officially named), that action has included captive breeding within Catalonia, and restoration efforts in the animals' native habitat.

"Now Chester Zoo is on board, given its enormous experience in breeding threatened amphibian species, we hope the programme will go from strength to strength and that we can create a much brighter outlook for these wonderful animals," said Francesc Carbonell Buira, Biologist for the government of Catalonia.

"Growing up, I spent time in the mountain forests around Barcelona where the newts are found and so to now be part of the efforts to save them is a real honour," adds Garcia. "For the team and I to be able to use our skills and expertise to help save a species that lives there is hugely important."



Top header image: Screengrab/Chester Zoo/YouTube