Minnesota Zoo Helping DNR Raise Endangered Animals for Release in Waterways

March 31, 2016 10:18 PM

Are you concerned about clean lakes and rivers?  Most Minnesotans are.  5 Eyewitness News takes you behind the scenes of a project to restore our waterways to what they were 100 years ago.

Matt McLaughlin and Ben Minerich are the Minnesota Zoo's Mussel Men.

The zoo is working with the state's Department of Natural Resources to raise mussels in the zoo's main lake. They keep them in buckets under the bridge over the lake. 

“We're hoping to grow them in a protected environment," McLaughlin said. “We’re trying to grow them rapidly so we can get them back out into the wild.”

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McLaughlin says mussels are one of the most endangered groups of animals in North America.

“There are about 50 species native to Minnesota, and of those, half, about 25 are considered threatened, endangered or special concern," McLaughlin said.

The Zoo is raising three kinds of mussels, the Plain Pocketbook, Fatmucket and Mucket.

“Mucket mussels are an endangered species here in Minnesota," Minerich said. “They're the first endangered species we started working with."

The zoo hopes to eventually grow 10,000 mussels a year to help the DNR bring the population in Minnesota waterways back to what it used to be.  

“In the early 1900's there was a lot of collection of mussels, specifically for the shells to punch them out and make buttons," Minerich said.

Mussels were also hurt by locks and dams and their pollution took a toll.  Minerich says these tiny animals have a big impact.

“So they're going to restore clarity of our water systems, cleanliness of our water systems and get us back to where we were a hundred years ago," Minerich said.

So the next time you're at the zoo and on the bridge over the main lake, stop and look into those buckets. The mussels in them may be the key to clean water in Minnesota for years to come.

This spring the Minnesota Zoo plans on putting some of the mussels it's growing in an aquarium for visitors to see.  You'll find it in the log cabin just before you walk onto the bridge over the main lake.

Find out more about the Minnesota Zoo's efforts to increase the mussel population here. 


Kevin Doran

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