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Unconventional Dish in Japan Sparks Online Controversy in Mexico

A post on X by Mexican Journalist Nelson Valdez has gone viral due to a restaurant serving fried axolotl, an endangered and beloved species in Mexico. It sparked some turmoil on social media in Mexico due to the risk of extinction the animal has been facing for years. The photos showed the dish served at Noge Chinjuya, a restaurant in Japan that typically serves unconventional dishes of exotic animals. 

This amphibian’s primary habitat is Lake Xochimilco in Mexico City. Twenty years ago, there were about 6,000 axolotls per square kilometer. According to ecologist Luis Zambrano from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, that number has decreased to 36 axolotls per square kilometer. Overfishing, habitat loss, and environmental contamination are the biggest threats to the axolotl. Mexico City’s expanding population contributes significant;y to habitat loss and environmental degradation. 


The Japanese restaurant defended itself by stating that the animals were bred on their axolotl farm, therefore not harming the current ecosystem of wild axolotls. Noge Chinjuya requests guests to reserve seats in advance to try their eccentric dishes. Other rare meats often served here include shark, camel, squirrel, bear, and more. The animals and meals they have available differ as they have a rotating menu. Regardless, this incident sparked an online debate on animal consumption ethics. The restaurant does not have an official website and only has a social media presence, where the original post of the controversial dish has been deleted. 

Axolotls were thought to be a living representation of the fire and lightning god Xolotl in Indigenous Mexican mythology. In 2021, the Bank of Mexico featured a new $50 peso bill with an axolotl printed, which won Banknote of the Year for its appearance. 


Axolotls have lately gained popularity as a result of their inclusion in well-known video games like Minecraft and Roblox. The demand for this amphibian as a pet has also risen in the last few years due to them trending on social media, especially through Tik Tok. Because of this, millions of axolotls have been held and bred in captivity, but that does not alter the fact that axolotls in the wild native to Lake Xochimilco are critically endangered. Captive axolotls are usually bred in their rare pink variation, but wild axolotls are brown with spots and are the ones dying out as a species. 


However, trends go as easily as they appear. Eventually, the fascination for wanting these animals as pets will die down. That on its own will not help keep this endangered amphibian from going completely extinct. Ecologists in Mexico have launched a virtual campaign known as ‘Adoptaxolotl, ” where people can virtually adopt an axolotl and receive health updates for 600 pesos, or $35. Other options include paying for food to feed an axolotl for a lesser price. The money raised by this campaign goes towards maintaining the native axolotls. The same campaign was introduced last year, raising $300,000 for the axolotls. 

The concern raised by the fried axolotl dinner post was not to highlight that this particular species is being devoured because they were eaten in ancient Aztec society, as several comments on the same page pointed out. The difference is now they are endangered and protected. The issue is more on the fact that by serving it as a meal, the awareness of their extinction is not being taken too seriously. The controversy over the consumption of these amphibians is up for debate, but due to their popularity on the web, many believe this was the wrong call on the restaurant's behalf.


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