On June 16, 2010 eighteen eastern indigo snakes, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed threatened species, were release into longleaf pine habitat on Conecuh National Forest, marking a milestone in the survival of this species.
Numerous partners, including Project Orianne, Auburn University, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, Zoo Atlanta, the Nature Conservancy, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, and the US Forest Service, are working together on a multi-year project to reintroduce eastern indigo snakes in areas which they have been extirpated, which includes Conecuh National Forest and other areas in Alabama and Florida.
To commemorate this first release, Dr. Dan Speake, who has contributed greatly to eastern indigo snake research throughout his esteemed career, release the first of the snakes on Conecuh National Forest. These snakes were captively bred from snakes caught on State lands in Georgia, with cooperation from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and on Fort Stewart. The captively bred individuals were then raised jointly by Auburn University and Zoo Atlanta.
The release snakes are implanted with Passive Integrated Transponders (PIT tags) which will allow staff from Auburn University to track and monitor each individual. This information will be used to determine how the species uses the landscape as well as to monitor survival rates of the reintroduced snakes. These snakes were release into an area that has a healthy population of gopher tortoise, a species on which the eastern indigo relies for survival because they use their burrows for protection, resting, and overwintering areas.
Initial monitoring reports following the release indicate that the snakes have settled into their new environment nicely, already foraging on local prey species which includes venomous snakes, frogs, and rodents among other things.
Project Orianne is focused on the range-wide recovery of eastern indigo snakes. This reptile and amphibian conservation organization is establishing a captive breeding facility in Florida, where they will breed and rear eastern indigo snakes for future reintroduction efforts in areas within Alabama and Florida, and continuously monitor strongholds of the population in Southeast Georgia, peninsular Florida. Project Orianne also owns a roughly 2,300 acre area of land called the Orianne Indigo Snake Preserve, where they manage the land to enhance eastern indigo snake and gopher tortoise habitat, on which a healthy population of eastern indigo snakes currently resides.