When you visit the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens, your visit helps support the care of over 350 animals and over 100 acres of beautiful Florida wetlands. Your visit also helps educate and inform thousands of guests, school children, and community members through formal and informal outreaches and programs about the threats that species face around the world. What you may not have realized is that your visit is also helping to restore an icon to the Florida longleaf pine system: the threatened eastern indigo snake.
In July 17, 2017, twelve eastern indigo snakes were released into the wild at Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve (ABRP), land owned by The Nature Conservancy, in northern Florida. This was the first release of eastern indigo snakes in Florida in 30 years, and marks the beginning of a yearly repatriation program. These juvenile snakes, eight males and four females, were hatched and raised at the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens’ Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation (OCIC). OCIC is a state-of-the-art facility built specifically for the breeding and caring for the eastern indigo snake, and located about 25 miles from the Zoo in Eustis, FL.
“The Central Florida Zoo’s Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation is honored to be involved in the repatriation of the eastern indigo snake in Florida,” said Michelle Hoffman, Curator, Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation. “As the sole facility that is breeding indigo snakes for release back into the wild, the OCIC provides these animals with expert care to ensure the breeding success of this challenging species in captivity.”
The last observed eastern indigo snake at ABRP was in 1982. This release marks the beginning of a ten-year commitment to restoring their population in north Florida. OCIC will continue to breed, raise, and release indigos at this site in conjunction with a variety of partners.
The eastern indigo snake is listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Habitat loss and fragmentation have greatly contributed to the decline in this species. With a native range that once stretched from southern South Carolina, west into Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, and throughout Florida, the eastern indigo snake is now rare and has been largely eliminated from northern Florida.
The eastern indigo snake is the longest native snake in the United States, reaching up to 8-9 feet in length. The snake is non-venomous and feeds on a variety of animals, including other snakes. Eastern indigo snakes play a critical role in their ecosystem as apex predators, maintaining the balance that is critical to a healthy wildlife community. Eastern indigo snakes rely heavily on the burrows of gopher tortoises, as do many other species.
Learn more about eastern indigo snakes here.
While this was the first release of eastern indigo snakes in Florida in 30 years, it was not the first for the Central Florida Zoo’s OCIC. Since opening the facility in east Lake County in 2012, the Center has hatched over 160 indigo snakes and has released over 100 indigo snakes into the Conecuh National Forest in Alabama. Just days before the release in north Florida at ABRP, OCIC staff released 26 eastern indigo snakes in Alabama.
These snakes hatched at OCIC, but were raised at Zoo Atlanta in Georgia, showcasing the important role that all accredited zoos play in helping wild animals. In addition to this release and partnership, the Central Florida Zoo works tirelessly to educate guests on the importance of native species and balance in ecosystems. You can observe eastern indigo snakes and a variety of other native snakes in our Herpetarium located at the Zoo.
Learn more about OCIC’s work here.
Your visit and donations to the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens helped make this release possible. Support of the Zoo and the OCIC helps us keep our commitment to being a conservation and education resource for the Central Florida community, as well as assisting populations of our native wildlife.