TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — More than 200 eastern hellbenders will be released into Ohio streams as part of an ongoing effort to offset a decline in the endangered aquatic salamander.
The Toledo Zoo will participate in releasing the endangered salamanders into Ohio River and Muskingum River drainages next week as part of the Ohio Hellbender Partnership.
Hellbenders are native to Ohio but are endangered in the state.
Kent Bekker, director of conservation research at the Toledo Zoo, told The Blade newspaper (http://bit.ly/2aZ4Snp ) this is primarily because the animals are particularly susceptible to pollution, siltation and general disturbance of their stream-bed habitat.
“That sensitivity is exacerbated by the fact that they are such a long-lived animal with characteristically slow development,” Bekker said.
Hellbenders can live up to 70 years in the wild, but they require clear and clean water.
“If you have a stream with hellbenders, you’re pretty well assured it’s a high-quality stream,” said John Navarro, aquatic diversity program administrator for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife. “They are a great indicator of water quality.”
The Toledo Zoo hatches hellbender eggs collected from the wild and raises the young until they are old and large enough to avoid most predators.
The planned releases have been delayed because of recent rainfall, Navarro said. But the hellbenders — 185 from the Toledo Zoo and 50 from the Columbus Zoo — will be placed in safe areas.
Surveys of hellbenders in the late 1980s and again in the late 2000s showed an estimated population decline of 82 percent.
This will be the zoo’s third release in six years. It has reared more than 800 hellbenders.