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How do we react to the acute threat that Bsal poses for the fire salamander: Intervene or watch?

The salamander killer is on the loose – and what we can do about it

Overshadowed by the Corona pandemic, a tragedy is also happening in our native hardwood forests. An introduced fungal disease is killing all fire salamanders that cross its path. Discovered about a decade ago, the disease initially spread “on foot” in the tri-border region of Germany – Holland – Belgium. But now it occurred, what scientists feared for a long time: The fungus has jumped. Initial outbreaks in Bavaria in the spring of 2020 mark a new phase of this epidemic, because they mean that potentially all fire salamander populations are at risk, and drastically so – because unlike Covid-19 in humans, mortality in fire salamanders in the case of Bsal is one hundred percent. An infected salamander will die if left untreated.

The key question: Intervene or watch?

Knowledge obliges. How should we react to this acute threat to the fire salamander, which, being a German “species of special responsibility“, has highest priority? The dream of an intact nature, which is best left alone, would mean to watch the eradication of all fire salamanders inactively. The fungus is spread not only by human boots, but also by ducks’ feet and newts’ legs, so even locking people out would not help. What remains, then, is courageous intervention. Accepting responsibility always means the willingness to take risks. Only in human care can salamanders be saved from infested populations. So we have to do it, even if we cannot know today how and when the way back to the wild will open up.  

The advantage of film: you don't have to intervene, you may just watch.

Author Susann Knakowske accompanied scientists, conservationists and animal owners on film for over a year. It wasn’t planned, it just turned out that way. Because neither Corona nor the Bsal jump to Bavaria were on the filming schedule when we began preparations for a fire salamander documentary at the end of 2019. And this story is far from over. But the first film is ready and gives an overview of the state of affairs regarding salamander eaters in spring 2021. 

Salamander in Trouble

Citizen Conservation is coordinating a project for the salvation of our domestic fire salamander. Find out more about our plans and how you may support us here.