Eastern Indigo Snakes released into wild, decade-long species recovery ahead

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By: Brittany Bedi | WCTV Eyewitness News
July 17, 2017

BRISTOL, Fla. (WCTV) -- Workers from several conservation agencies gathered at Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve for a wildlife release that was years in the making.

Twelve Eastern Indigo Snakes were released on the 6,295 acre nature preserve Tuesday.

The non-venomous snakes are native to longleaf pine forests in North Florida. The snakes grow up to nine feet long, and eat venomous snakes along with other small animals.

Habitat loss and human impacts led to a decline in population over the past 30 years. Eastern Indigo Snakes have been listed as a threatened species since 1978.

Aside from raising the snakes, habitat restoration is a priority. Conservationists spent more than a decade restoring wiregrass ground cover, planting longleaf pines, and burning the brush to create a suitable habitat.

David Printiss is the North Florida program manager at The Nature Conservancy.

“I feel like a proud parent,” said Printiss. “We’ve been working on this project for over a decade. My background is in herpetology, so I have a very soft spot for Indigo snakes.”

The snakes were bred at the Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation at the Central Florida Zoo. A roughly two years old, the snakes were released into gopher tortoise burrows.

The reintroduction of the snake should lead to a more balanced ecosystem.

Brooke Talley is the reptile and amphibian conservation coordinator at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

"By putting it back, it really makes that food web much more functional. So it will help not only the prey items, but the predators of snakes as well."

“We expect to see some balance brought back into the ecosystem by putting this apex predator back,” said Printiss. “It’s not too big of a stretch to compare it to the wolves out west where you restore those and the habitat comes back into balance.”

Locating devices were implanted in the snakes before release. Auburn University graduate student, Sara Piccolomini, will be tracking and studying the snake habitat preferences over the next two years.

“Eastern Indigo Snakes are about as good as it gets for a herpetologist and for grad school,” said Piccolomini. “This is a dream project for me."

The snake release is the beginning of a ten-year commitment to species recovery. This reintroduction is the first of ten, and conservationists plan on releasing 30 snakes per year.

The 10-year conservation commitment to indigo snake species recovery is a joint effort through the following organizations:

- The Nature Conservancy
- Central Florida Zoo's Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation
- Auburn University
- The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- The Orianne Society
- Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center
- Gulf Power
- National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
- Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida



 
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