Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, dozens of international visitors traveled thousands of kilometers each year to Nichinan, Tottori Prefecture, to see an ancient creature found only in the rivers of central and western Japan — the Japanese giant salamander.

The amphibian can grow up to 1.5 meters in length, weigh as much as 40 kilograms and is the second largest of the world’s three main giant salamander species.

“You can see where all the lore and myth (comes) from (when encountering) one of these incredible, enormous river dragons,” says Coyote Peterson, star of the Brave Wilderness YouTube channel, in a video about Japanese giant salamanders filmed in Tottori in 2018.