Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Buffalo Zoo’s Hellbender Lab Is Officially Open!

The Buffalo Zoo offered members of the media the opportunity to photograph the Zoo’s hellbender rearing lab that is now officially open for public viewing on January 11th inside the Buffalo Zoo Reptile House.

The eastern hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) is the largest aquatic salamander species found in the Americas. Wildlife studies have shown that hellbender populations have declined dramatically, including those that inhabit some watersheds in New York State. Reasons for the decline of these amphibians are unknown. However, scientists are working to study the role of predators, disease (such as amphibian chytrid fungus), angler-related mortality, water quality and suitable habitat conditions and food sources to determine their contributions to the decline of hellbender populations. Although the eastern hellbender is listed as a species of "special concern" in New York, federal and state officials are also working to change their listing to "threatened" or "endangered.”

The Buffalo Zoo is pleased to collaborate with the New York State Department

of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Fish and Wildlife Service, and Buffalo

State College to take part in helping to secure this species' future. The Zoo is also grateful for the State Wildlife Grant (management and restoration category) money awarded to our facility to enable us to partner in this headstart project.

In October 2009, Buffalo Zoo reptile and amphibian keepers worked with DEC

senior biologist, Ken Roblee, to collect approximately 700 hellbender eggs from the Allegheny watershed. The eggs were brought to the Buffalo Zoo, where more than 600 of them hatched.

The hellbenders will be reared at the Buffalo Zoo until the summer of 2013. The juvenile hellbenders will then be pit-tagged by qualified Buffalo Zoo staff and released by the DEC at selected sites within the Allegheny watershed. The DEC will monitor the release sites as further population management and restoration actions continue to be identified and developed.

Members of the public are invited to observe the lab and learn more about the hellbender headstart project through the lab’s interpretive graphics.

(photo courtesy the Buffalo News)

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