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.

By 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


As barns disappeared from the Western Pennsylvania region, so did barn owls. Mark Browning, a keeper in Kids Kingdom, has been working with the Moraine Preservation Fund, Slippery Rock University, and others to reintroduce barn owls to the region. Mark has raised, hacked out, (a falconry term meaning a slow, gradual release), and used satellites to track 16 owls over the last few years.

barnowl_tracking_mapAs you can see from the map, not all birds found Pittsburgh to their liking. Mark is now working on ways to increase the site fidelity of his released birds. In other words, he is working on ways to entice more of them to stay home in Pittsburgh.