• Bronx Zoo collaborates with Buffalo Zoo and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to save one of the largest salamander species in the world
  • WCS helps reestablish eastern hellbenders to New York State

Bronx, N.Y. – March 10, 2011 – The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo is working to save one of the world’s largest species of salamander from extinction – the eastern hellbender.

Working in collaboration with the Buffalo Zoo and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Bronx Zoo is raising 41 juvenile hellbenders that were hatched at the Buffalo Zoo in October 2009 from eggs collected from the Allegheny River drainage in western New York. The animals are being raised in an off-exhibit biosecure room in the Bronx Zoo’s Amphibian Propagation Center until they are mature enough to be released back into the wild in 2012.

“The Bronx Zoo has a proud tradition of being very hands-on in our work to conserve and protect important species like the hellbender,” said Jim Breheny, WCS Senior Vice President and Bronx Zoo Director. “Our extraordinary facility and staff give us the ability to take a leadership role in wildlife conservation projects and immediately impact wildlife health both locally and abroad.”

Patricia Riexinger, Director of the Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said, “The hellbender is an important part of our state's aquatic biodiversity and it’s clear that we have to take dramatic steps to ensure its continued presence in New York. Numerous studies over the past decade have shown that there are few young hellbenders available to join the breeding population. This ‘head-starting’ program will enable us to release young hellbenders back to the wild at a life-stage that may enable them to survive and thrive in New York. We deeply appreciate the support of WCS, the Bronx Zoo and the Buffalo Zoo as conservation partners in the recovery of this iconic salamander.”

Hellbenders, also known as devil dogs, Allegheny alligators, and snot otters, measure nearly two feet in length as adults. Only two larger salamander species are known to exist – the Japanese giant salamander and the Chinese hellbender – both can grow to up to six feet long.

The hellbenders at the Bronx Zoo are approximately seven inches in length and will grow to full size in about five years. Once they are about two and a half years old, they will be returned to the wild in western New York State.

New York State lists the hellbender as a species of Special Concern. Populations are declining due to several factors including over collection for the pet trade, disease, pollution, and habitat destruction.

Hellbenders are fully aquatic and tend to be found in rocky, swift-flowing streams, living beneath large rocks in shallow rapids. They have flattened heads and bodies, small dorsal eyes, and slimy, wrinkly skin. They are typically a brown or reddish-brown color with a pale underbelly. A narrow edge along the dorsal surface of their tails helps propel them through water.

Max Pulsinelli – 718-220-5182; mpulsinelli@wcs.org
Steve Fairchild – 718-220-5189; sfairchild@wcs.org

The Wildlife Conservation Society works locally and around the globe to save wildlife and wild places. WCS recently announced the launch of A Sea Change, a collaborative initiative which includes renewal of WCS's commitment to conservation in the New York Seascape. The local marine conservation program is focused on saving imperiled species in New York waters from Montauk, NY to Cape May, NJ including: sand tiger sharks, loggerhead turtles, and alewife fish which spawn in the Bronx River.

The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Adult admission is $16, children (3-12 years old) $12, children under 3 are free, seniors (65+) are $14. Parking is $13 for cars and $16 for buses. The Bronx Zoo is conveniently located off the Bronx River Parkway at Exit 6; by train via the #2 or #5 or by bus via the #9, #12, #19, #22, MetroNorth, or BxM11 Express Bus service (from Manhattan that stops just outside the gate.) To plan your trip, visit www.bronxzoo.com or call 718-367-1010.

If you would like to guide your readers or viewers to a web link where they can make donations in support of helping save wildlife and wild places, please direct them to: www.wcs.org/donation.