The Tennessee Cave Salamander

If we asked you to think of an endangered animal, you’d likely picture something huge and beautiful and majestic. You may even think of an animal that is no longer endangered, like the giant panda or bald eagle. But you probably don’t think of the small, modest endangered animals that live right here in our own city.

Large, pretty animals— called “charismatic megafauna” in ecology circles— tend to be the icons of wildlife conservation. They attract visitors to zoos and parks and spark marches and movies. And while charismatic megafauna matter, they sometimes cause us to ignore the plights of the animals we’re most capable of helping.

The Tennessee cave salamander lives naturally in cave systems right here in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. It’s in grave danger of extinction because of pollution and development of the streams and wetlands that drain into the caves where it lives. Fertilizers, industrial waste, pesticides, dams, and logging are all destroying the Tennessee cave salamander’s fragile habitat. Without urgent action, this little animal is likely to become extinct within our lifetimes.

So what can you to do help? Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to care. Speed the word about Tennessee cave salamanders and push for more public understanding of all endangered animals, not just the ones who are noteworthy for being large and exotic and beautiful.

Be mindful of your own ecological impact, here in the Tennessee cave salmanader’s native range. Don’t waste water. Don’t overuse lawn chemicals. Don’t litter or dump oil or antifreeze. Support local conservation groups, like the Chattanooga Audubon Society and Tennessee Aquarium. Together, we can help protect our own native treasures.

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