After years of hard work, a group of partners led by The Nature Conservancy, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), and the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens’ Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation (OCIC) have released 19 young eastern indigo snakes into the wild.
This marks the seventh year in a row that the partners have worked together to reintroduce these threatened snakes to the area, with the ultimate goal of establishing a growing population that can support the recovery of other species in the region.
Eastern indigo snakes are an essential part of the southern longleaf pine ecosystem, serving as an apex predator that helps to balance the local wildlife community by consuming a variety of small animals, including venomous and non-venomous snakes. Unfortunately, habitat loss and fragmentation have greatly reduced their range over the years, and they are now listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
That’s where the partners come in. Through their collaboration, they have worked to restore and manage the habitat required by the snakes and many other species to make this week’s release possible. The 19 snakes chosen were specifically raised for release, bringing the total number of indigos released on the property to date to 126.
In fact, over the past year, numerous snakes from previous releases have been observed on The Nature Conservancy’s Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve (ABRP), where today’s snakes were released. Thanks to traditional foot surveys and the use of trail cameras, the team has been able to keep track of the snakes’ movements and make sure they are thriving in their new environment.
The snakes’ new home at ABRP is an amazing place. This 6,295-acre nature preserve protects a large longleaf pine landscape carved by numerous seepage streams and is home to the gopher tortoise and the full suite of longleaf pine species. Located along the Apalachicola River, the preserve is one of five biological hotspots in North America and is home to a great number of imperiled plants and animals.
The ABRP is currently the only site in Florida designated for indigo reintroduction, but the team is hopeful that they can expand their efforts in the future. And with only five percent of the longleaf pine ecosystem remaining globally, their work is more important than ever.
All in all, this week’s release is a huge step forward for the recovery of these incredible snakes and the many other species that rely on them. As Dr. James Bogan, Director of Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation, said, “It is bittersweet to see these young indigos released into the wild. So much effort is placed into caring for these snakes, from incubating the eggs through their first two years of care, that it is sad to see them go. It is such a good feeling, however, to see these majestic snakes in their natural environment, claiming their role as an apex predator of the longleaf pine ecosystem.”
With more releases set for the future, we look forward to reintroducing even more eastern indigo snakes soon.