Bronx Zoo collaborates with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Buffalo Zoo to save one of the largest salamander species in the world 

WCS helps re-establish Eastern hellbenders to New York State

Watch an underwater video of the release >>

Bronx, N.Y.  August 21, 2013 — The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo is working to save the Eastern hellbender, one of the world’s largest species of salamander, and has re-introduced 38 animals into streams in western New York State.

The hellbender head-start program is a collaboration between the Bronx Zoo, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Buffalo Zoo. The animals were hatched at the Buffalo Zoo in October 2009 and raised at the Bronx Zoo’s Amphibian Propagation Center, an off-exhibit, bio-secure facility. The eggs were collected by the DEC from the Allegheny River drainage and the juveniles returned to the same location.

Before being returned to the wild, each animal was tagged under the skin with a tiny chip that can be used for identification of individuals during future surveys and health assessments.

Don Boyer, Bronx Zoo Curator of Herpetology, and Sarah Parker, Bronx Zoo Wild Animal Keeper, transported the hellbenders and worked with DEC and Buffalo Zoo staff to release the animals. Each hellbender was individually placed in the water under submerged rocks – optimal conditions that will give them the best chance to thrive.

“We are proud to partner with the New York DEC and Buffalo Zoo on this exciting release of Eastern hellbenders into the wild,” said Jim Breheny, Director of the Bronx Zoo. “This collaboration underscores the important contributions zoos are making to the conservation of wildlife in their native habitat.”

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.”

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

Hellbenders are fully aquatic and are usually found in rocky, swift-flowing streams. They hide under large rocks, have flattened heads and bodies, small 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.

Also known as devil dogs, Allegheny alligators, and snot otters, hellbenders 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 Wildlife Conservation Society works locally and around the globe to save wildlife and wild places. In New York, WCS has conservation programs in the Adirondacks and in and around New York City. WCS’s New York Seascape program focuses on saving imperiled species in New York waters from Montauk, N.Y. to Cape May, N.J. including sand tiger sharks, loggerhead turtles, and river herring that spawn in the Bronx River.

MAX PULSINELLI: (1-718-220-5182;
STEVE FAIRCHILD: (1-718-220-5189;

The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide. We do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world’s largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes towards nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth. Visit:

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 or call 718-367-1010.