Bronx Zoo Raising Hell-Benders for Release

Posted By : The Animal Facts Editorial Team

Date: September 6, 2021 1:30 pm

Hellbender Release Bronx Zoo

A close up of an eastern hellbender in a tank at the Bronx Zoo

Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS

The Bronx Zoo working with a number of partners have celebrated the latest release of eastern hellbenders as part of a multi-year plan to save the the species. Hellbenders are one of the world’s largest salamanders with the eastern salamander being a threatened species.

Only two salamanders are larger than this species, the Japanese giant salamander and the Chinese giant salamander.

124 eastern hellbenders were released in to New York’s Upper Susquehanna River Watershed on Saturday August 28th.

Hellbender Release Bronx Zoo

The eastern hellbender rearing area at the Bronx Zoo

Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS

Working with partners including Lycoming College in Williamsport, PA; SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, NY; and The Wetland Trust based in Burdette, NY the Bronx Zoo has been working to increase the number of hellbenders in the Upper Susquehanna River Watershed.

Staff at the Bronx Zoo begin by collecting hellbender eggs from the watershed and transported them to Bronx Zoo. After hatching at the zoo they were cared for in the Amphibian Propagation Center. In the safety of the center they are able to grow to a larger size. This means they can complete the most vulnerable stage of their life in safety and return to the wild at a size which reduces potential predators.

Bronx Zoo’s Amphibian Conservation Center is equipped with a custom built water purification system which maintains optimal water condition for the eastern hellbenders. Protocols at the zoo ensure no novel pathogens are introduced to the watershed.

The hellbenders were returned to the same streams from which their eggs were removed.

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“Young hellbenders are vulnerable to predation by fish and other wildlife that share their habitat,” said Don Boyer, Curator of Herpetology at the Bronx Zoo. “By raising them at the zoo they are able to grow to a size that greatly increases their survival rates. In turn, they are more likely to reach maturity and propagate naturally in the wild.”

On August 10th the hellbenders were moved from the Bronx Zoo to the Amphibian Conservation Laboratory in New Berlin, NY. After a short layover they were reintroduced to the watershed.

To allow scientists to track them in to the future a tiny microchip was placed under their skin.

Hellbender Release Bronx Zoo

The eastern hellbenders being transported in to New York’s Upper Susquehanna Watershed for release

Photo Credit: Peter J. Petokas, Ph.D

“The collaboration between Lycoming College, SUNY-ESF and the Bronx Zoo has made significant headway in our effort to restore the Eastern Hellbender to a historic hellbender stream in the Upper Susquehanna River Watershed,” said Peter Petokas, Ph.D., Research Associate, Dept. of Biology and Clean Water Institute, Lycoming College.

“Our partnership has enabled the collection of fertile hellbender eggs, long-term rearing of hellbenders for release, restoration and enhancement of hellbender habitat, and regular electronic monitoring of released head-started hellbenders since its inception. As we progress toward our goal of a restored, self-sustaining Eastern hellbender population, we continue our collaboration with partners and community volunteers to ensure that the head-starts attain significant growth and a robust, healthy physical condition.”

In the fall the Bronx Zoo will collect the next group of hellbender eggs to be raised.

Hellbender Release Bronx Zoo

A number of the eastern hellbenders raised at Bronx Zoo for a release to the wild

Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS

At Bronx Zoo visitors can see the eastern hellbenders in the World of Reptiles Building. This tells the story of the important conservation programs for the species.

Learn more about Hellbenders here – Hellbender Fact File | The Animal Facts

Learn more about the Bronx Zoo on their website – Bronx Zoo

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