ST. LOUIS – Over 10,000 hellbenders have now been released into area rivers as a part of a conservation effort by the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Saint Louis Zoo, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Saint Louis Zoo started raising and releasing endangered Ozark and eastern hellbenders into the wild in 2008. The 10,000th hellbender was a nearly 4-year-old Ozark hellbender released into a Missouri Ozark river on August 10. It was collected out of this river as an egg in 2018 by MDC. It was one of 235 hellbenders released into this river throughout the project.

“This is the largest number of animals the Saint Louis Zoo has ever raised in human care and released to the wild and is one of the largest amphibian reintroduction programs in the world,” the Saint Louis Zoo’s Curator of Herpetology Justin Elden said. “To date, this is the most successful hellbender release program in the country and it would not be possible without collaborative efforts between the Zoo, MDC and other partners over the last 15 years.”

Elden is also the Director of the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute Ron and Karen Goellner Center for Hellbender Conservation.

“The idea of returning this many hellbenders into native rivers was a dream goal and almost impossible to imagine at the time,” MDC State Herpetologist Jeff Briggler, Ph.D, said. “It has been a lot of hard work and dedication from many people and partner conservation organizations, and while we recognize the significance of this milestone, the work is far from over. We will continue to help protect this species from extinction.”