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culture

Nine Year Old Trying to Save Adorable Sea Creature

Matthew Clowater and his school friends have teamed up with a local shop in an effort to raise money for the axolotl, which is cartoonishly cute, and also endangered.

A display of kid-created axolotl artwork at Planet Kid.

Kids love animals. Like kittens and puppies—those are obvious gateway creatures. The Toronto Zoo’s new pandas have probably already earned themselves hundreds of fans among Toronto’s youngest citizens. And who doesn’t love dolphins? But a little-known Mexican amphibian has captured the imaginations of one west-end Toronto boy and his friends, inspiring an art fundraiser at Roncesvalles Avenue children’s store Planet Kid.

Nine-year-old Matthew Clowater first heard about the axolotl (pronounced ACK-suh-LAH-tuhl) from his 11-year-old brother Thomas, who did a school project about the animal. Clowater’s interest was piqued, and he began to do his own research. “I think they’re really cool because they can grow back body parts,” he explained, “like half of their brain and a third of their heart.”

20130610axolotl

The axolotl—the name comes from the Aztec language and means “water monster”—doesn’t go through metamorphosis like other amphibians. Native to Mexico, they’re aquatic and gilled as adults. Their only remaining natural habitat is Lake Xochimilco in Mexico City. Axolotls are classified as critically endangered because of threats to their natural habitat and the introduction of new species, like Asian carp, to the area.

Axolotls are often used in medical research because of their ability to regenerate lost limbs in months. Some have even been documented regenerating vital organs—including, yes, parts of their brains. They can also accept transplants of body parts and organs from other axolotls. These unique characteristics obviously make the animals interesting to researchers who study organ transplants and brain injuries.

Also, they’re adorable. Have a look:

Wanting to do something to help the axolotl, Clowater settled on an art show. “I decided on art because I am really good at it,” he said, “and if people see colours and something really pretty they might buy it even if they don’t really need it.” Clowater recruited five of his friends from Howard Park Junior Public School to create a collective called Epic Arts. Together, they created the artwork for the show.

Epic Arts paired up with Planet Kid when Clowaters’s father approached owner Sara Fillmore. The store has a display wall near its entrance, and Fillmore offered to give the kids the spot to hang their artwork.

“I hope that the collective of artists will come up with other ideas and other things that they could fundraise for with their art. I would love to continue it,” Fillmore said. “Frankly I think it’s extraordinary that a kid that age has got the initiative to step up and do it. If i can help by creating the space that’s available for them and collecting the money for them…it’s awesome.”

Though the artwork is already on display at the store, Epic Arts’ show officially opens at Planet Kid on Wednesday, June 10 at 4 p.m. The work will remain on display into July. It’s being sold by donation, with a suggested minimum price of $10 each. One hundred per cent of funds raised will go to the Restauración Ecológica y Deserrollo A.C. (REDES MX), a Mexico-based axolotl preservation society.

Photos by Terri Coles/Torontoist.

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