Lab-bred hellbenders released into the wild for the first time

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KENTUCKY (WEHT) — Officials with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) say they released masters of hell after raising them in a lab.

Officials say that in collaboration with researchers at Purdue University, KDFWR staff collected hellbender egg masses from Kentucky streams to raise in a laboratory environment. The agency claims this increased the survival of young Hellbenders by 50 times what is observed in the wild.

Officials say that after being raised for several years in the lab, the masters of hell were recently released into the streams of Kentucky. This is the first-ever lab-raised Hellbender release in Kentucky. This long-term restoration effort is expected to increase the population of the species to prevent its listing under the Endangered Species Act. Officials say it takes three to four years for the eggs to mature into juveniles large enough to withstand the stress of reintroduction.

Zack Couch, wildlife diversity program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, said, “Kentucky Fish and Wildlife has released 25 eastern hellbenders, the only species of hell found in Kentucky. The eastern hellbender is listed by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife as a species in greatest need of conservation in Kentucky. The Missouri population of Eastern Hellbenders is listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Couch said non-point source pollution (specifically sedimentation) likely caused the species’ decline. Sediment from upstream erosion negatively impacts habitat by clogging the stream substrate used as shelter by larvae and juveniles.

Couch said, “Reintroducing Hellbender to Kentucky is intended to avoid the need to list the species on federal endangered species law by restoring the population before it becomes critically imperiled. This effort, coupled with sustainable land management practices, will ensure that Kentucky has a viable population of Eastern Hellbenders for generations to come. This work would not have been possible without the financial support of Kentucky Wild members.

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