Biologists Release 25 Threatened Eastern Indigo Snakes in Alabama Forest
It's been a busy time in the world of snakes!
On the heels of the successful removal of a record-breaking Burmese python from the Florida Everglades, biologists in Alabama are celebrating a very different kind of snake-related victory.
The Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens' Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation (OCIC) successfully released 25 eastern indigo snakes in Conecuh National Forest over the weekend as part of the ongoing effort to reintroduce the threatened species to its native territory.
The snakes were bred and hatched at the OCIC's facilities in Lake County, Florida. At a year old they were transferred to Zoo Atlanta to prepare for reintroduction.
"The eastern indigo snake is known as the emperor of the forest," Dr. James Bogan, director of the OCIC, said in a news release. "We love knowing that these latest snakes now have the opportunity to take that title, and we're proud that we have been able to restore essential balance to this important ecosystem through our work over the years."
Reaching lengths of eight feet, the eastern indigo is America's longest native snake. Relying on gopher tortoise burrows for shelter, the non-venomous reptile is native to the southern longleaf pine ecosystems of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida. Unlike the invasive Burmese python, eastern indigo snakes are essential for habitat balance in these areas.
"Without the indigo snake, it somewhat throws the ecosystem out of balance," Traci Wood, a biologist with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, told AL.com. "We saw that with the absence of the indigo snakes that copperhead populations actually increased, so it's a very important species to have in the forest."
Habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and the decline of gopher tortoises led to an extreme population decline. In fact, eastern indigo snakes were considered nonexistent in Alabama by 1954.
Since the reintroduction program began, however, their population has started to rebound. Now, a total of 227 eastern indigo snakes have been released into Alabama's longleaf forests. Scientists have also found two young indigo snakes in Conecuh National Forest, indicating that the reintroduced snakes are successfully reproducing on their own.
Keep up the good work, y'all!