Posted By : The Animal Facts Editorial Team
Date: December 22, 2021 12:21 am
An adult hellbender
Photo Credit: Jo-Ellen Toler/ Saint Louis Zoo
The Saint Louis Zoo have welcomed over 1,000 hellbender hatchlings at the conservation program for the species celebrated 10 years since the first successful hatching of an Ozark hellbender. The conservation program is a collaboration between the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS).
Between October and December 201 the Saint Louis Zoo saw 750 Ozark hellbenders hatched at the Saint Louis Zoo's Charles H. Hoessle Herpetarium. A further 583 Ozark and eastern hellbenders were hatched from eggs which MDC brought to the zoo from river systems in Missouri.
1,333 newly hatched hellbenders are now being raised in a private area of the herpetarium.
Another exciting achievement for the zoo is that these hatchlings represent the second generation offspring of several males born 10 years ago. These males were among the first Ozark hellbenders hatching at the Saint Louis Zoo.
Since the inception of the program in 2011 over 12,000 hellbenders have been raised.
Roughly 2 month old hellbender hatchlings are seen developing at Saint Louis Zoo
Photo Credit: Saint Louis Zoo
“Over the last decade, Zoo animal care professionals have continued to successfully care for and reproduce Ozark hellbenders,” said Lauren Augustine, Curator of Herpetology at the Zoo and Director of the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute Ron Goellner Center for Hellbender Conservation. “Each year the keepers collect extensive data on the reproduction and growth of these amazing salamanders. It is the dedication and passion of these keepers that makes this conservation breeding program such a huge success that continues to improve and evolve each year.”
“It is such an amazing partnership with the Saint Louis Zoo to save an endangered amphibian,” said Jeff Briggler, Ph.D., State Herpetologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation. “Ten to 15 years ago, the future of hellbenders in Missouri was in doubt, but with the successful Saint Louis Zoo-breeding and rearing of the young, the future looks more promising.”
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The Saint Louis Zoo maintain a state-of-the-art hellbender rearing facility. The breeding group are kept in natural streams maintained by life support systems which filter the water and keep them at the ideal temperature.
“Thanks in part to the construction of efficient hellbender rearing systems, which provide the ideal environment for these animals to thrive, the Zoo is able to contribute to the recovery of hellbenders by managing a sustainable breeding population in human care,” said Augustine.
The facilities recreate hellbender habitat with closely monitored temperatures, pumps to maintain highly oxygenated water, and filtration systems to provide specific water quality parameters. The largest room includes a 32-foot simulated stream and houses a breeding group of adult eastern hellbenders.
Along with captive breeding the zoo will head-start juvenile hellbenders. Eggs are collected from the wild and raised in captivity until they reach a size where they are less susceptible to predation.
Once the zoo-bred larvae reach 2 to 8 years old they can be returned to their natural habitat.
Hellbenders are the largest aquatic salamander in North America. Both the Ozark hellbender and eastern hellbender are endangered in the wild. Over the past 40 years their populations have declined by 70 percent.
Learn more about Hellbenders here – Hellbender Fact File | The Animal Facts
Learn more about the Saint Louis Zoo on their website – Saint Louis Zoo
A number of hellbender eggs are seen during their development at Saint Louis Zoo
Photo Credit: Saint Louis Zoo