Western Pa Animals

Conservation Projects in Western Pennsylvania

Conservation starts at home. We have several conservation and research projects in Pittsburgh and the surrounding region including:



Hellbenders are large and wonderously ugly amphibians that were once found by the thousands in the Eastern United States. Unfortunately, they are now confined to the few pristine streams that are left in the region. They are a superb indicator of the health of the environment and can provide an early warning of when an ecosystem is in trouble. Tom Hayes, one of the aquarists at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, is working with a group of local ecologists from the Wilds and Indiana University of Pennsylvania, to monitor the distribution of hellbenders in streams in Western Pennsylvania.

hellbender_closeupBy the way, nobody knows why they are called hellbenders! The origin of the name was lost a long time ago. If you don't like the name "hellbender", you can call them by their other common name, "snot otter".  For more information about hellbenders, visit Hellbenders.org.





Paddlefish are an odd looking fish with a canoe like paddle for a nose.  They are also one of the largest freshwater fish in North America reaching over five feet in length.  Once found in the Ohio and Allegheny rivers, they have become extinct in Pennsylvania waters, but can still be found outside of the state. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has been working to reintroduce this species to local waters since the early 1990’s in an effort to establish a secure breeding population. The Pittsburgh Zoo has partnered with them in this endeavor.


In the summer of 2010 the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium received a small group of paddlefish from the Fish and Boat Commission. These fish were kept in a holding area where they were raised until they reached approximately 16 inches in length and then were released into the Emsworth pool on the Ohio River. All of the fish released have a small wire tag implanted just under their skin. If the fish is caught the tags help scientists identify the origin of the fish.