Image: A Japanese giant salamander
Karen Bleier  /  AFP - Getty Images
A Japanese giant salamander is seen in its habitat on July 22, 2010 during the Smithsonian's National Zoo opening of the breeding center in Washington, DC. Honored as Japanese special national treasures, the salamanders were presented by Japanese Ambassador to the United States Ichiro Fujisaki as gifts from the Hiroshima City Asa Zoological Park.
updated 7/22/2010 3:31:08 PM ET 2010-07-22T19:31:08

The Smithsonian National Zoo is opening a breeding center for Japanese giant salamanders as part of an effort to save amphibians from a deadly fungus.

The zoo's breeding program opening Thursday will be the first time the species that grows up to 5 feet long has been bred outside Japan in more than 100 years.

The zoo in Hiroshima, Japan, is donating four salamanders to Washington's zoo. Local students helped Japan's ambassador name one salamander "Hiro," to represent its home city.

The salamanders are listed as "near threatened" by conservation groups.

Zoo scientists hope to learn more about the chytrid fungus that is deadly for some amphibian species but does not seem to kill these salamanders. Scientists will study their immunity to try to save other amphibians around the world.

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