U.S. Fish and Wildlife Wants "Endangered" Status for Ozark Hellbender

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Jeff Briggler, courtesy of Missouri DOC
Ozark Hellbender: Putting its image on a football helmet could save its life.
Before we get started, how is that the University of Missouri calls its athletic teams the Tigers (an animal that's never called Missouri home and which is the most generic name in all of college sports) and not the Hellbenders -- after the Ozark Hellbender salamander native only to the Show-Me State and parts of northern Arkansas? Apart from perhaps the South Carolina Gamecocks, is there a better animal mascot in all of collegiate athletics??

Continuing along that train of thought. Perhaps if the team were the Mizzou Hellbenders, there'd be no need to report the following news. That is to say, people might actually care about the slimy creature -- with the awesome name -- that can grow up to two feet long and spends its days hiding beneath rocks in shallow riverbeds and dining on crawdads.

Yesterday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the Ozark Hellbender as an endangered specie. If not, the animal could be extinct within 20 years. According to Fish and Wildlife, just 590 of the animals can be found in the wild today in streams such as the Current and Jacks Fork rivers.

Georgia Parham, outreach specialist with Fish and Wildlife, tells Daily RFT that her agency is asking the public to comment from now until November on its proposal to list the animals as endangered. After that date, the department will review any new evidence before determining whether or not to list the salamander as endangered.

Missouri already list the Ozark Hellbender as endangered on its state registry. A listing on the federal register would place further restrictions on the "taking" (hunting or collecting) of Ozark Hellbenders and place federal restrictions on man-made nuisances that could further decimate their populations.

So what's killing off the hellbenders? Ore and gravel mining are believed to have played a role. So has recreational activity (removing boulders from streams for canoeing) and a fungal disease known as chytrid.

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