What a Zoo: Hellbenders

TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - It's a conservation project that the Toledo Zoo has been part of for six years.

Newly-plucked hellbenders will spend the next three years here before they'll return home to the creeks of southern Ohio.

They've only been at the Toledo Zoo for a few months.

John Chastain, associate curator of herpetology with the Zoo explains, "Hellbender numbers in general have been greatly decreasing over the years. All of this is mainly due to habitat destruction, siltation of streams. So with a lot of land restoration and management techniques, the habitat's coming back."

Hellbenders are a type of salamander found in southern Ohio.

And for the past 6 years, the Toledo Zoo has been collecting eggs from the wild, and raising them for three years before sending them back to their habitats.

The hardest part, john says, has been getting them to hatch.

He says, "Unlike most amphibian eggs, which we usually just leave alone and they kind of do their thing, there are different issues with the hellbender eggs. In the wild, the males actually dig a big void under a rock and the eggs are laid underneath there and then the male protects them ... so we've had to create techniques to recreate that."

The effort has included a partnership between the Toledo Zoo and students at PENTA Career Center.

The Zoo raises them for about a year, and the mature hellbenders go to PENTA, until they're ready to be released in the fall.

John tells 13abc, "It's kind of a fun activity. We take an ice chest full of hellbenders, go snorkeling in ice cold creeks, and find little nooks and crannies to tuck the animals back into."