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From Assistant Curator John Adamski: Earlier this month, we released the 8 hellbenders residing at our Zoo along with 12 others from Buffalo Zoo to a stream near Portville, NY. The October release was the latest that Ken Roblee of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has ever released them. The stream temp was 54 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees less than our tank!) Ken is hoping that they will stay in place in the stream a little longer than previous releases. They tend to wander and he has a harder time finding them again. The Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tags used can be read underwater and even through rock!
When releasing the hellbenders, Ken wears a wet suit and feels around for a flat rock larger than 30 centimeters. He pulls the rock up on its side and digs out a cavity with his feet. He carefully places the rock down and makes sure that there is only one entrance under it. He places the hellbender at the entrance; if the hellbender goes in and stays, Ken considers it a success. If the hellbender rejects the rock, he looks for another. This avoids the risk of the hellbender getting swept downstream by the current and gives the animal a chance to acclimate. It took about five hours to release the 20 total hellbenders.
A new group of hellbenders will reside at the Zoo in the spring, so stay tuned!