After delving into the plight of the Crested Toad at The Buffalo Zoo, I was introduced to the struggle of another at-risk critter that is found much closer to home. The hellbender is an absolutely fascinating creature that makes its home in eastern states, and has a range that encompasses part of New York State (close to Buffalo). The hellbender is one of the largest salamanders in the word, and once thrived in streams from NYS to Georgia. Today, due to sediment runoff from farming, damming of rivers, collection for the pet trade, endocrine disruptors (hormones), and killing by fisherman, the hellbender population has dwindled in numbers, and without the stepped up conservation efforts by institutions such as The Buffalo Zoo, this amazing creature would most likely be headed for extinction.
It was in 2009 that The Buffalo Zoo joined the NYS Hellbender Recovery Team – a move that caused that The Zoo to establish a rearing facility for hellbenders virtually overnight. The headstart project, thanks to help from the DEC, entailed the daunting work of collecting eggs and building aquariums. It would eventually take a team called Hellbender Heroes (comprised of students, docents and staff at The Zoo) to help house the 743 individually hosted eggs, many of which would eventually inhabit a room full of aquariums that would second as a learning lab and educational exhibit for The Zoo. The nocturnal crayfish hunters would then be repopulated by release into fresh streams that were not being adversely affected by farm pollution (among other controversial pollution sources), and then tracked by micro chips and wands to study movement and population numbers.
As much as the conservation effort at The Buffalo Zoo is indispensable at this point, it’s going to take environmental reform on a larger level to ensure a stable future for the hellbender. It’s of utmost importance that riparian habitat remains intact. Whether that entails purchasing rocks that the hellbenders can then inhabit, controlling urbanization surrounding habitats (including road building and deforestation), acquiring land for future conservation efforts, and/or researching ways to combat the heavy amounts of pollution that wreak havoc on our waterways, the future of the hellbender populations are uncertain. I can only hope that the reversal of the environmentally unfriendly trends will gain traction through education and conservation efforts that are underway at places such as The Buffalo Zoo.
If you’re interested in the efforts of The Buffalo Zoo, please consider becoming a member (click here for more information).
*The Buffalo Zoo received funding for hellbender research and restoration from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the New York State – Lead image