There are only two rivers in the world that are home to the massive, dragon-like creature known as the Neuse River waterdog. These 1-foot-long amphibians are native only to North Carolina, but the salamander’s population is declining drastically.
Ben Zino, a third-year studying fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology, hopes to bring attention to the endangered salamander through his short film “The Forgotten Dragons: Saving the Neuse River Waterdog.”
Zino has loved wildlife since he was a kid. By fifth grade, he knew that was what he wanted to do as a career. Then, by high school, he had started his YouTube channel, “The Wild Report,” where he shows off some of the amazing creatures that are right here in North Carolina.
Initially, he desired to show the animals of North Carolina and how going outside is valuable, and now the channel has evolved, highlighting stories of wildlife conservation.
“I really enjoy using the power that video has to inspire positive change for our local wildlife,” Zino said.
Zino’s shift of focus to wildlife conservation is where the Neuse River waterdog comes in. Together with Eric Teitsworth, a graduate student majoring in fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology and a researcher, Zino is bringing attention to this lesser-known creature in hopes of saving it. Teitsworth, who was interviewed for the documentary, has done all the field work on the species, discovering the little that is known so far. Just one person can make the difference between the life and death of a species, and Teitsworth has been that person for the waterdog.
“We don’t know anything about them other than the fact that we are slowly killing them,” Zino said.
According to Zino, all amphibians are sensitive to water quality decline, but the waterdogs are even more so, which limits the climates and habitats they can thrive in. On top of that, sediment entering North Carolina rivers from the massive amount of development in recent years is making it even more difficult for them to find a suitable habitat. Hopefully, the short film can spread the word, while Teitsworth’s data positively influences policy to help save the waterdog.
The Neuse River waterdog is just one example of a species in trouble; thousands of other species, in North Carolina and beyond, are just as overlooked and just as in peril. They might not be as pretty or as publicized as other endangered animals, but they are just as vital. In the end, that is the message that Benjamin Zino wants to share.
“My goal as a content creator is to get people to appreciate this incredible diversity of wildlife that is right here in North Carolina,” Zino stated. “There are incredible species that need our help.”
Zino’s short film, “The Forgotten Dragons: Saving the Neuse River Waterdog,” can be found on his YouTube channel. Zino’s channel also features information on other native North Carolina species.