About a month ago I took the kids to the local zoo. We’ve been going there since we moved here, and one of our favorite animals was the hellbender. He had been living in a small, plain, and uncomfortable looking plexiglass box about the size of a kitchen sink. There was murky water and a big rock inside his box, but not much else.   Despite his home, we loved to look at him. He  was huge, and had such a smooshy face!

Over the course of our visits,  we discovered that a new enclosure was being constructed for the hellbender. It was practically its own room, mimicking a natural habitat. The zoo staff were taking extra care to make a nice place for the hellbender to live. Then, we didn’t go to the zoo for many months.

When we returned in July, we looked for the hellbender in his small plexiglass box but he wasn’t there. We continued around the zoo and as we were getting close to the exit, I inquired about his location. We thought he must be moved into his new digs. That’s when we heard his sad tale:

The hellbender had been living in his plexiglass cube for almost 10 years. 10 Years!!! The zoo staff had been raising money over that time to recreate a natural habitat where he could live. Since he was an endangered specimen, nothing was held back. Once completed just a few months ago, every one of the staff was excited to introduce him to his new home. They likened it to a “Free Willie” moment, with everyone gathered around. He seemed happy to be out of his box and have room to move around.

Unfortunately, the next morning, when the staff came in to work, they found the hellbender on the ground outside of his exhibit. He had pushed open the secured top to his enclosure and fallen on the ground. He was about 1/3 of his regular size due to dehydration. They tried to rehydrate and re-acclimate him, but he died a few days later.

The mystery remains:

Why would someone (who had been living in a small, spartan box for the last decade) leave the safety of his new spacious and comfortable home? All those years of care-taking, fundraising and building ungratefully and inexplicably rejected. Perhaps he though ‘the grass looked greener,’ or that he knew better. The sad truth is that now he’d dead. Had he just stayed in the place which was painstakingly prepared for him from the beginning, he would still be here.

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