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Chinese Giant Salamanders (Andrias spp.) Fact Sheet: Managed Care

History of Managed Care

Zoos, general

  • Not common in zoos, worldwide (ZIMS 2019)
  • Held in zoos internationally since the early 1990s (ZIMS 2019)
    • Held by London Zoo in the 1920s (Benjamin Tapley, personal communication, 2019)

San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

  • 1948: San Diego Zoo adds a Japanese giant salamander (Andrias japonicus) to its collection (Stott 1948; Zoological Society of San Diego 1970)
  • 1969: San Diego Zoo holds 2 Chinese giant salamanders in its collection (Zoological Society of San Diego 1980)
    • Later transferred to other zoos
  • 2017: 3 Chinese giant salamanders at San Diego Zoo (San Diego Zoo Global 2018)
    • Acquired as part of an initiative to help combat wildlife trafficking and improve scientific understanding of giant salamander development
  • 2022: Chinese giant salamander in San Diego Zoo's new Wildlife Explorers Basecamp habitat (San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Public Relations 2022)
    • One of only six locations in the United States where guests can view Chinese giant salamanders (as of June 2022)

Husbandry at San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

(Rachelrose Schneider, personal communication, 2019)


  • Not common in zoos
  • Most active during early morning


  • Water quality
    • Closely monitored, particularly for water temperature, oxygen, and ammonia levels
    • High water flow and mixing (e.g., waterfall filter) increase oxygen levels
    • Live plants used to help oxygenate water and remove nitrates
    • Filtration system removes metals and other impurities
  • Water temperature
    • Range: 14-18°C (57-65°F)
    • Water chiller system used to regulate temperature
      • Heater not needed in San Diego
    • Holes in tank lid improves air circulation, allowing heat to rise and exit tank system
  • Water depth
    • Approximately 30 cm (12 in)
  • Shelter
    • Underwater hiding spaces
    • Riverbed rocks
      • Help mimic natural streams

Social interactions

  • Individuals housed separately
    • Males territorial; fight if housed together


  • Diet items
    • Frozen fish
      • Smelt, trout, silversides
    • Frozen shrimp
    • Earthworms
  • Frequency of feeding
    • Offered food about once per week
  • Delivery method
    • Tongs used to position food near salamander’s mouth


  • Breeding programs not yet well developed in zoos


  • Food enrichment
    • Shrimp and additional earthworms as supplemental foods
    • Frozen fish “wiggled” near mouth to simulate movements of live fish
  • Spatial enrichment
    • Can rotate individuals through exhibit spaces

Other behaviors

  • Sometimes consume their own shed skin
    • Common in salamanders
  • “Yawning” or jaw stretching

Clean Water—Priceless

Water filtration system at San Diego Zoo

In zoos, water filtration systems are used to remove metals and other impurities from local water sources.

Chinese giant salamanders require clean, unpolluted water for good health and breeding.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo. All rights reserved.

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