MDC confirms first zoo-raised hellbender successfully reproducing in the wild

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has reported a significant milestone in population recovery efforts of the endangered Ozark hellbender. 

A zoo-raised hellbender has successfully reproduced within the Current River.

“We are very excited to announce this news,” said Missouri State Herpetologist Jeff Briggler. “This is the first documented event of a zoo-raised animal fathering a clutch of eggs in the wild.”

Rivers in southern Missouri and adjacent northern Arkansas once supported up to 27,000 Ozark hellbenders. 

Today, fewer than 1,000 exist in the world – so few that the Ozark hellbender was added to the federal endangered species list in October 2011.


Hellbenders are large aquatic salamanders. Missouri is the only state that contains both recognized subspecies of North American hellbenders: the Ozark hellbender and eastern hellbender, both of which are listed as endangered both by the state of Missouri and by the federal government.

The primary threats are habitat alteration and degradation, over-collecting, disease, predation, and degraded water quality. 

Hellbenders are long-lived (with a 30-year lifespan), slow-to-mature amphibians that seldom venture far within the river.

MDC Herpetologist Jeff Briggler (left) holds the first zoo-reared Ozark hellbender to reproduce in the wild. Pictured with Briggler is MDC Ozark District Supervisor John Ackerson (middle) and National Park Service Natural Resource Manager Victoria Grant (right).

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