The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today designated the Ozark hellbender as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and also finalized its decision to list the Ozark and eastern hellbender in Appendix III of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). In combination, these listings will provide significant protection to hellbenders, both domestically and internationally.
Under the ESA, an endangered species is any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. The Ozark hellbender, which grows to lengths up to 2 feet, inhabits the White River system in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. Ozark hellbender populations have declined an estimated 75 percent since the 1980s, with only about 590 individuals remaining in the wild. It is believed numbers have dropped because of degraded water quality, habitat loss resulting from impoundments, ore and gravel mining, sedimentation , and collection for the pet trade.
Also threatening the Ozark hellbender is a fungal disease, chytridiomycosis (chytrid), and severe physical abnormalities (e.g., lesions, digit and appendage loss, epidermal sloughing) which most Ozark hellbenders exhibit.
In addition, the average age of Ozark hellbender populations is increasing and few young are being found, indicating problems with reproduction or juvenile survival. This, and the multiple threats from disease and habitat degradation, could lead to extinction of the Ozark hellbender within 20 years.
"The Ozark hellbender faces extinction without the protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act," said Tom Melius, the Service's Midwest Regional Director. "Listing provides tools and an infrastructure within which partners can pool resources and expertise to help save this species."
The Service determined that designating critical habitat under the ESA for the Ozark hellbender is not prudent because the designation would require publication of detailed descriptions of hellbender locations and habitat, making illegal collection for the pet trade more likely. More....