Missouri Department of Conservation releases over 1,000 hellbenders that were raised at the Saint Louis Zo into Ozark Rivers. A press release revealed that over 8,600 Saint Louis Zoo endangered hellbenders were reintroduced to the wild since 2008. Due to the recent pandemic, the re-introductions this summer was almost unsuccessful.
Hellbenders are regarded as North America’s largest aquatic salamanders. The only state that has both Ozark hellbender and eastern hellbender is Missouri. Both species are listed as endangered. The population of these species has declined by over 70% for the past 40 years. All hellbenders are a greater risk of extinction for the next 75 years unless something is done about their populations.
Scientists from the Missouri Department of Conservation and the zoo made a plan that aimed at the safety of their team members while caring for the hellbenders. The reduction of contact and maintenance of social distancing was the priority of the restoration team. To accomplish this, animal transfers were done in open parking lots. The number of crews that released the hellbenders was also limited to two persons per boat.
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The extraordinary teamwork by the Zoo’s Herpetology, Registrar, Life Support Systems and Animal Health departments to prepare the hellbenders for reintroduction is a testament to the dedication of Zoo staff to this conservation program.Lauren Augustine, Curator of Herpetology at the Zoo.
The first successful breeding of Ozark hellbenders took place at the zoo in 2011. This is the first time in the world hellbenders would be successfully bred in the zoo. There was another achievement in 2018 as second-generation hellbenders were successfully bred in the zoo.
So far, the zoo has been able to successfully breed 5,531 hellbenders. Presently, there are 1,397 hellbenders in the zoo. Once the hellbenders clock between 2 to 8 years old, they will be released to the Ozark Rivers, their natural habitat. The release revealed that MDC scientists will continue monitoring the success of these animals.