The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo is working to save the Eastern hellbender, one of the world’s largest species of salamander, and has re-introduced 38 animals into streams in western New York State.
The hellbender head-start program is a collaboration between the Bronx Zoo, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Buffalo Zoo. The animals were hatched at the Buffalo Zoo in October 2009 and raised at the Bronx Zoo’s Amphibian Propagation Center, an off-exhibit, bio-secure facility. The eggs were collected by the DEC from the Allegheny River drainage and the juveniles returned to the same location.
Before being returned to the wild, each animal was tagged under the skin with a tiny chip that can be used for identification of individuals during future surveys and health assessments.
Don Boyer, Bronx Zoo Curator of Herpetology, and Sarah Parker, Bronx Zoo Wild Animal Keeper, transported the hellbenders and worked with DEC and Buffalo Zoo staff to release the animals. Each hellbender was individually placed in the water under submerged rocks – optimal conditions that will give them the best chance to thrive.
“We are proud to partner with the New York DEC and Buffalo Zoo on this exciting release of Eastern hellbenders into the wild,”he said.
Patricia Riexinger, Director of the Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said: “The hellbender is an important part of our state’s aquatic biodiversity and it’s clear that we have to take dramatic steps to ensure its continued presence in New York. Numerous studies over the past decade have shown that there are few young hellbenders available to join the breeding population. This ‘head-starting’ program will enable us to release young hellbenders back to the wild at a life-stage that may enable them to survive and thrive in New York. We deeply appreciate the support of WCS, the Bronx Zoo and the Buffalo Zoo as conservation partners in the recovery of this iconic salamander.”
Watch Bill Hopkins, professor in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech, talks about the eastern hellbender and their ecological importance:
New York State lists the hellbender as a species of Special Concern. Populations are declining due to several factors including disease, pollution, and habitat destruction.
Hellbenders are fully aquatic and are usually found in rocky, swift-flowing streams. They hide under large rocks, have flattened heads and bodies, small eyes, and slimy, wrinkly skin. They are typically a brown or reddish-brown colour with a pale underbelly. A narrow edge along the dorsal surface of their tails helps propel them through water. Also known as devil dogs, Allegheny alligators, and snot otters, hellbenders measure nearly two feet in length as adults. Only two larger salamander species are known to exist – the Japanese giant salamander and the Chinese hellbender – both can grow to up to six feet long.
(Source: WCS press release, 21.08.2013)