Waaaay back in 1975, a salamander was discovered by Paul Elias and dubbed Jackson’s Climbing Salamander. Only two were found, both females, one of which was preserved and the other brought to the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at U.C. Berkeley. Few photographs were taken of the salamander before she went AWOL. They would be the only photos of the salamander for the next 42 years. Whether the golden little amphibian was stolen or escaped remains unknown. But in my mind, there was an elaborate heist involving at least 10 people and 1 eccentric collector/benefactor.
During his expedition into the Cuchumatanes in Guatemala, Elias collected a couple hundred salamanders to bring back to the states. Of those specimens, 3 were previously undiscovered. The Long-limbed Salamander and Finca Chiblac Salamander were among the specimens. On his subsequent trips to the Cuchumatanes, Elias and Jackson spent weeks searching for wildlife. They came upon the “Golden Wonder.” Of the 3 species they found, none would be seen for more than 25 years. What are the odds?!
With all of the threats to their environment in Central America, it was easy to think of these golden ghosts as extinct. No one had seen them for decades. Paul Elias and his colleague Jeremy Jackson went on another expedition in 2014, that was led by Carlos Vasquez, along with 7 others to retrace the original steps taken to find the gold illusion. They did not find the Jackson’s Climbing Salamander that expedition. They did, however, generate enough interest in the area to be able to create the San Isidro Amphibian Reserve before the land could be used for coffee cultivation. It was a close one. There has been so much deforestation and human expansion, that the space left for wildlife is shrinking at an alarming rate.
The 2,000 acre reserve is where the guards patrolling the grounds were trained on how to search for and identify the little golden evader by Vasquez. Vasquez also left a poster up for the rangers to see the gold flanked phantom. It was one of those guards, named Ramos León, that saw the long-lost salamander during a lunch break. After 42 years, the Golden Wonder has been confirmed alive and safe on the reserve. Jackson described his reaction to the news as follows, “… I flew off the couch where I’d been falling asleep, let loose a string of expletives (in a good way), and did a little happy dance.”