Most creatures have evolved over the millennia, yet somehow the giant salamander has retained a skeleton very similar to those of lizards from about 30 million years ago. That, combined the giant salamanders’ relative rarity today, has given it the nickname of a “living fossil” – a rare and unique living glimpse into the past. Due to their rarity in the wild, the giant salamanders are a protected species; and even in captivity, they became rarer after several died from being shown in an exhibition that was supposed to illustrate their plight.

The salamanders normally live in dark and cool conditions; when they were shown at an exhibition held at the height of summer, with the flash from tourists’ cameras constantly bothering them, and no air conditioners at night to ease their plight, they found it hard to survive. Global Times reports in “15 rare giant salamanders die at Shanghai Expo due to heat and noise” that the first salamander deaths occurred at the exhibit, where nine died; although the remaining six were taken home, they all quickly died as well. The group which provided one of the giant salamanders admitted that the deaths were due to lack of experience and not taking into account the conditions the animals would be facing.

The deaths are a loss for the species, which remain a vanishing illustration of evolution. In the wild they are threatened by pollution, hunting, and habitat loss, so increasingly their viability may depend on the captive population. Although this loss is a setback, it yields additional information as to what the giant lizards can tolerate, and will hopefully prevent future deaths.