The Chattanooga Zoo announces the successful hatching of a group of Hellbender eggs collected from the wild here in East Tennessee. This is the first hellbender hatching on Chattanooga Zoo grounds.
The Chattanooga Zoo has been working on Hellbender conservation on-site and in-field since 2009. Due to catastrophic population collapse across the state, the Chattanooga Zoo teamed up with the Nashville Zoo’s Ectotherm department to collect eggs and begin setting up a head start program for east and middle Tennessee. Working in partnership with the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency, the Nashville Zoo, The University of Tennessee, and Lee University, they will rear this group of juvenile hellbenders for several years until they are mature enough to monitor in the wild. Once they reach maturity, they will be released into a suitable stream in East Tennessee where species sightings no longer occur.
Officials said that creating head start programs for this species will give each individual animal a better chance of survival. Because they will be larger when released into the wild, they are easier to study, either by traditional methods or radio transmitters, which is essential for gathering data.
“Without human intervention of field research, head start programs, habitat protect and restoration, and animal reintroductions, we will lose the species to extinction. Our Ectotherm department and partners work diligently to better understand these animals in efforts to save and protect them for years to come,” said David Hedrick, Chattanooga Zoo ectotherm keeper III.
Formerly found in streams throughout middle and east Tennessee, officials said hellbenders have experienced a steep decline throughout the state over the past thirty years. Declining populations are due to degraded water quality, sedimentation, pollution, and habitat loss from dams and other developments. A decade of field research has recently verified only six remaining streams that have healthy, self-sustaining populations in Tennessee. We hope through our conservation efforts, public education, and partnerships to be able to help reverse this trend of population decline in Tennessee Hellbenders.
"It is so rewarding to see our hellbender hatching and how our conservation initiatives are working towards saving this species in the wild, but we could not do it without our partners. We would like to thank our local conservation partners, the Terminal Brewhouse, and Mohawk Canoes for their support in our efforts to save the hellbender," officials said.