An axolotl boom is seeing thousands of the smiling amphibians accumulating at New Zealand’s pet shelters, with some blaming their newfound popularity on Minecraft, TikTok and other online games.
Emma Neale, who runs an amphibian, reptile and animal rescue in Dunedin, said she now had 2,000 axolotls in her care, after 600 of the creatures had arrived last week. “So if anyone is looking for an axolotl, feel free to send them my way,” she said.
Neale said some inexperienced owners were failing to desex their pets or accidentally placing breeding pairs together in tanks. The amorous amphibians ended up “having accidental clutches 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 huge number of eggs,” said SPCA science officer Alison Vaughan. “That situation can very quickly get out of control.”
Axolotls are considered critically endangered in the wild, but are widely bred in captivity. Their growth has been driven partly by their popularity online, where their little faces, set in a constant grin, are well suited to memes and shareable videos.
The creatures have been a hit on TikTok, where their hashtag has accumulated 2.6bn views.
Axie Infinity, an online game where players battle cartoon axolotls, peaked at about 2.7m users in November last year. Perhaps the greatest contributor to the axolotl renaissance, however, might be Minecraft, the enormously popular children’s world-building game, where the amphibians were introduced as a companion creature in 2021.
Google trend reports indicate that searches for axolotl peaked when Minecraft introduced them in July 2021, but have remained elevated since. Internationally, outlets began reporting last year that axolotls had become a hot new pet for Minecraft-playing children.
But animal care experts say some owners are naive about the commitment involved. Dr Helen Beattie of Veterinarians for Animal Welfare said she’d had concerns since last year, when she said increasing numbers of children began asking their parents for pet axolotls.
“Right at the time that Minecraft introduced the capability of spawning said axolotls in the program – there were concerns at that point about the demands kids were then making to their parents around getting the real deal,” she said. “They’re not easy pets … They’ve got really specific needs.”
Danni Mokomoko, who runs Wellington Amphibian and Reptile Rescue, said the rescue received 25 axolotls arrive last week. He thought their increasing popularity was possibly linked to Minecraft.
Mokomoko said that many people didn’t understand the effort required to keep an axolotl – the rescue had had “hundreds of people enquire” about adopting over the past two weeks, but most evaporated when they were told about the equipment and treatment required to keep an axolotl healthy and happy.
Neale was sceptical that Minecraft alone could account for high axolotl numbers, saying she blamed the growth more on irresponsible breeding. She also said they made excellent pets – as long as families were prepared and did proper research around tanks, food, and care. For those considering taking one on, the translucent creatures are not a short-term experiment – they can live for up to 25 years.
October 14, 2022 at 01:54PM Tess McClure in Auckland