Regional Director Gets Up Close Look at Hellbenders, Beetles
Regional Director Tom Melius braved early January’s polar vortex and toured captive breeding and rearing facilities for endangered Ozark hellbenders and American burying beetles at the St. Louis Zoo. On hand from the Columbia Field Office to provide the Service perspective were biologists Trisha Crabill and Scott Hamilton, who joined St. Louis Zoo staff for the tour.
The Ron Goellner Center for Hellbender Conservation is part of the St. Louis Zoo WildCare Institute, which focuses on conservation of endangered species and their habitats. RD Melius talked with Carmen Schuette about how the zoo takes precautions to prevent transmission of amphibian chytrid fungus, a serious threat to Ozark hellbenders. He also got a look at where eggs are hatched and young are reared. The facility is currently rearing more than 4,500 Ozark hellbenders for eventual release; about 700 young hellbenders from the zoo’s propagation program have already been released into the wild. The captive propagation program at the zoo is being used to stabilize wild populations until threats are better understood and can be addressed. Partners include the Missouri Department of Conservation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, among many others.
Another tour stop was the zoo’s Insectarium, where zoo staff are working on recovery of the American burying beetle. Melius met with Bob Merz, zoological manager for the zoo, who explained the zoo’s captive rearing program and gave a behind-the-scenes look at the Insectarium. The zoo houses the beetles individually, and detailed information on each beetle is recorded so that the captive colony maintains genetic diversity. American burying beetles from the zoo have been used in reintroductions in Missouri the past two years.
-- Trisha Crabill and Scott Hamilton,
Columbia Missouri ES Field Office