15 Eastern Indigo Snakes just released in year three of the North Florida recovery effort
ABRP is the only site in Florida currently designated for indigo reintroduction. The 6,295-acre nature preserve in northern Florida’s Liberty County 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 specialists. Located in the Apalachicola Bay region along the Apalachicola River, the preserve lies in the center of one of five biological hotspots in North America and is home to a disproportionate number of imperiled species. The preserve is a living laboratory for the development of restoration techniques and land management excellence, dedicated to natural community restoration, preservation of biodiversity, and education and training.
Only five percent of the longleaf pine ecosystem remains globally. Over the past thirty-plus years, The Nature Conservancy has employed science and technical expertise to develop the state-of-the-art groundcover restoration process that is now used by state, federal and private partners across the southeast to restore longleaf pine habitat. This restoration, combined with the Conservancy’s robust prescribed fire program, has resulted in improved longleaf habitat on over 100,000 public and private north Florida acres in recent years.
Longleaf pine restoration is also a top priority at places like the Apalachicola National Forest and Torreya State Park—both neighbors to ABRP and supported by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP).
The 15 snakes released at ABRP were bred and hatched by the Central Florida Zoo's Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation (OCIC), the world's foremost comprehensive-based conservation organization dedicated to the captive propagation and reintroduction of the eastern indigo snake. All hatched in 2017, the ten females and five males were raised for one year at the OCIC before transferring to the Welaka National Fish Hatchery for an additional year in preparation for their release. The snakes have been implanted with passive integrated transponders (PIT) by the Central Florida Zoo's veterinary staff to allow for identification when encountered after release.
“The Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens and OCIC are proud to contribute to the conservation efforts of this spectacular species,” said Michelle Hoffman, Director, Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation. “By focusing on the captive propagation and reintroduction of eastern indigo snakes, we are able to progress towards our goal of reestablishing this species in the Florida Panhandle.”
The Welaka National Fish Hatchery, run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is located along the St Johns River in Putnam County, Florida. Known primarily for striped bass, channel catfish and bluegill, the hatchery will soon begin raising at-risk Florida grasshopper sparrows and gopher tortoises, in addition to indigo snakes. Over the past 18 months, the snakes were fed a steady diet of dead mice, quail chicks and rainbow trout, and grew to about four-and-a-half feet in length before release.