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A Missouri resident, the hellbender is the largest species of salamander native to North America. These salamanders are perfectly adapted to their stream habitats with their flattened head and body, short stout legs, long rudder-like tail, and very small, beady eyes. The hellbender populations have been threatened by stream impoundments, pollution and siltation for years, yet seemed to do okay in Missouri and Arkansas. However, over the past 10 years, due to unknown factors, the populations in the Ozark Mountains experienced a sudden decline of 70 percent.
Located in our own backyard, the exotic hellbender has been an ongoing interest to the Saint Louis Zoo for 30 years. There are two subspecies of hellbender, and Missouri is the only state with both! Unfortunately, this native species is in need of immediate assistance. Who better to help than the Zoo with its history of successful captive breeding of amphibians and involvement in local, as well as international, conservation? The Hellbender Conservation center's establishment of a successful breeding program for hellbenders will help ensure the future for this unique amphibian. The place to save the hellbender, like any other form of wildlife, is in its native habitat.