Endangered Ozark Hellbender Breeds in Captivity For the 1st Time
by John Sullivan
“In my 24 years in the zoo business, this is one of the most exciting periods I’ve been through so far,” says Jeff Ettling, curator of herpetology and aquatics at the Saint Louis Zoo.
He’s talking about the birth of 185 baby Ozark hellbender salamanders (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis bishopi) at the zoo’s Ron Goellner Center for Hellbender Conservation, which has a dozen or so additional eggs ready to hatch. It’s the first time that Ozark hellbenders have ever been bred in captivity.
(Hellbender in egg by Mark Wanner courtesy of Saint Louis Zoo)
The news—announced last week by the center and the Missouri Department of Conservation—comes just two months after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) finally protected the amazing but increasingly rare 60-centimeter-long amphibians under the Endangered Species Act. After decades of population declines due to pollution, the illegal pet trade, and now the amphibian-killing chytrid fungus, FWS estimates that there are just 590 or so of these creatures left in the wild. North America’s largest salamanders, Ozark hellbenders live exclusively in the rivers and streams of northern Arkansas and southern Missouri.