St. Louis Zoo reaches milestone in repopulating ‘Missouri Hellbenders’ in the wild

ST. LOUIS - The Saint Louis Zoo, Missouri Department of Conservation and U.S. Fish & Wildlife service are announcing a historic achievement in conservation.

It`s all because of a native Missouri salamander named the Ozark Hellbender.

Patrick Clark shows us scary looking endangered species getting some good news.

It`s not a demon spawned salamander from Hades.

But these tiny hatchings of Ozark Hellbenders are a big deal for the St. Louis Zoo.

“This year alone we`ve put over 1,000 animals back into the wild and we`re hoping to repopulate those wild streams,” says Mark Wanner, Zoological Manager of Herpetology & Aquatics Saint Louis Zoo.

In 2011 the St. Louis Zoo was the first zoo to reproduce Ozark Hellbenders in their captive breeding program.

Not long after they began releasing the endangered salamander`s native to Missouri back into the wild.

But now they`re the first zoo to successfully reproduce second generation.

“Basically, what that means is that`s an animal hatched and raised here at the zoo in one of our habitats and raised to maturity and reproduced here in one of our streams,” says Wanner. “'So that`s extremely exciting that not only does it show we`re successful at what we`re doing but in turn it produces a great possibility from the wild.”

The creatures from below have been called `snot otters` or `old lasagna sides.`

But they`re an integral part of the ecosystem, Ozark Hellbenders look the part of a frightful amphibian in October.

“There`s a lot of myth to how they got their name,” says Wanner.  “The first people to find them and describe them on the rivers they were an ominous looking creature from the depths of hell.  That may be where they got their name.”

Ozark Hellbenders lay eggs in artificial nest boxes inside these structured streams outdoors and insider here the Herpetarium at the Ron Goellner Center for Hellbender Conservation.

Here, the captive breeding program has some historic numbers for conservation.

“It`s definitely extremely rewarding to be part of a program that has come from two adults to now releasing over five thousand in the last several years,” says an excited Wanner.  “And we`re just hoping that we`re making a small contribution to saving the species.”