Once a plentiful and thriving species in China’s freshwater rivers, it is now thought that there could only be a few giant salamanders left in the world. This is according to a massive wildlife survey conducted in China, as reported by the BBC. The animals, which have survived for over 170 million years without much change and are considered by many scientists to be a “living fossil,” are in rapid decline due to overconsumption as a food source; this ancient amphibian has actually become a delicacy in upscale Chinese restaurants in recent years.

The salamander has been all but eradicated from its natural environment, despite it being illegal to hunt and kill them in the wild. Giant salamanders are farmed throughout China and sold to restaurants.

“The overexploitation of these incredible animals for human consumption has had a catastrophic effect on their numbers in the wild over an amazingly short time-span,” researcher Dr Samuel Turvey, of the Institute of Zoology at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), told the BBC.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List has listed the giant salamander as “Critically Endangered” and is encouraging action to step up the conservation efforts for the species.

H/T BBC