A new article in National Parks magazine (Spring 2009) highlights the Ozark hellbender and the park, the only NPS unit known to harbor this rapidly declining, two-foot-long aquatic salamander. Only 600 or so are estimated to still be left in the wild.
The alarming 80% plus drop in Ozark hellbender populations over the last 30 years has placed it on the federal candidate list, with a listing proposal expected soon. As the article states, the population left within Ozark NSR contributes critical genetic diversity for this skin-breathing relic. Present in North America for the last 1.8 million years, the hellbender is a contemporary of other Pleistocene animals, including mammoths and giant sloths.
Park personnel are working with a multi-agency group to research environmental and physiological causes of the decline, prepare and provide educational outreach, and implement captive propagation activities with the St. Louis Zoo.
For more information, contact Victoria Grant at 573-323-4936.