Current Conservation Efforts
The Eastern Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) is a species of aquatic giant salamander endemic to the eastern and central United States. It is the largest salamander in North America. Hellbenders are habitat specialists with little tolerance of environmental change. Their principal threat is degradation of habitat due to activities causing sedimentation, thermal pollution and oxygen loss. Over-collecting in the 1990s as well as injuries and death when hooked by anglers have also decimated local populations. At Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden visitors can see young larvae hellbenders being reared for wild release in the nearby Blue River. A number of zoos across the country assist with “head starting” Eastern hellbender larvae which are reared from wild-collected eggs and then released once they reach a size less likely to succumb to predators. Indiana has only recently begun to collect eggs and rear larvae in an attempt to save this endangered species, and Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden offers a very unique opportunity for visitors to view what it takes to make this possible.
Censuses indicate that there are likely only a few hundred adult Eastern Hellbenders left in the wild on southern Indiana’s Blue River. Already a successful “head starting” partner with Purdue University and Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources, Mesker Park Zoo has also built the state’s first artificial stream/raceway for captive breeding larvae which is home to several wild-caught adults secured by Purdue under the auspices of Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources. This facility is, excitingly, the first facility to ever naturally breed to produce a living eastern hellbender offspring.
Our work on hellbenders has been made possible through the generous support of the Evansville Zoological Society, Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium’s PPG Conservation and Sustainability Fund, Aquarium and Zoo Facilities Association’s Clark Waldram Conservation Fund, and the Association of Zoos & Aquarium’s Amphibian Taxon Advisory Group Small Grant Program.
Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery
Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden is involved in the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) recovery plan for Mexican Gray Wolves. Wolf pups born at the Zoo have been cross fostered into wild dens as part of this recovery effort. This placement of captive born pups into wild dens allows for wild numbers to be increased as well as genetics within wild packs to be bolstered to continue to strengthen the survivorship of the wild population.
Our facility currently has four Mexican Gray Wolves on exhibit. They are the most endangered wolf species on the planet.
Being part of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, we work closely with other AZA accredited facilities to help maintain animal populations, contribute to SSP (species survival plan) efforts, and further our knowledge and understanding of every animal in our collection. AZA conservation efforts have directly contributed to population increases for endangered species around the globe. Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden is a proud member.