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Historically, there’s been an abundance of Ozark Hellbenders in the area, but recent declines in water quality, physical abnormalities such as lesions, and a fungal disease known as chytrid have contributed to the steep decline in the Hellbender population since the 1970s. Adam Crane is a laboratory supervisor in the Biology Department at Missouri State University, and he speculates why the Ozark Hellbenders could face extinction.
“We’re not sure if the adults are not able to reproduce because of some sort of endocrine disruptor or some other reason that maybe their sperm or eggs are of poor quality. Or, it’s just the larvae aren’t present maybe because of some other reason, maybe because of predators or something else like that,” Crane said.
The good news is that professionals are looking for ways to help the Ozark Hellbender population. Crane says the Saint Louis Zoo is one of the leaders in helping improve the hellbender population, and they’ve recently come close to developing fertilized eggs.
“Right now, they’re actually transitioning to a really expensive state of the art facility that will simulate more natural characteristics of the environment, and they’re hoping that maybe those things will help finally allow them to have captive reproduction,” Crane said.
Under the Endangered Species Act, it’s now illegal for individuals to kill, harm, or take an Ozark Hellbender. For KSMU News, I’m Samuel Crowe.