By Fred Antonio
Director of the Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation (OCIC)
The first two buildings of the new Orianne Center for Indigo
Conservation (OCIC) opened for occupancy this month marking a major milestone for
The Orianne Society’s captive breeding program. The facility, which is being
constructed in two phases on 25 acres of remote uplands and wetlands in central
Florida, will produce Eastern Indigo Snakes (Drymarchon couperi) for
reintroduction into the wild.
Groundbreaking for the facility took place on July 20, 2011, and
the first phase was completed with the construction of a Quarantine Building
The Quarantine Building at the OCIC is designed to
accommodate the intake of three separate groups of animals on a rolling basis.
As new animals arrive they will be established in one of three separately
controlled quarantine rooms and enter a 90 to 120 day lockdown period. During
this time, the health status of every snake will be evaluated along with
feeding and behavioral notes to develop a medical record and profile for each
animal. Following lockdown of one room, additional animals can enter the OCIC
using the next open quarantine room.
This program has an emphasis on preventative medicine and
health screening to identify individual health issues. These protocols also aid
in the prevention of vectoring disease from incoming animals to those already
established in the OCIC collection. Following successful completion of
quarantine, “graduates” will be released from quarantine to join our
established collection in the Herpetarium.
The Herpetarium portion of the complex is a spacious main
room which can house a large variety of reptiles and amphibians, along with all
the features of a productive work space. This “flex space” can be used to set
up enclosures designed specifically for the species to which they are
dedicated. A large “cool room”, managed on a separate A/C system, will support
species from cooler environments, like amphibians and reptiles from cloud
forest and montane (mountain) regions.
Currently under construction at the OCIC is a set of
innovative outdoor breeding enclosures. Representing a fresh approach to
captive snake breeding, the outdoor enclosures will ultimately be the hallmark
of the OCIC. While it has long been known that opportunities to bask in the
sun are crucial for the health of crocodilians, turtles, tortoises, and
lizards– snakes have traditionally been overlooked in this aspect.
This is due, in large part, to the fact that most snake
species can thrive in captivity despite a lack of exposure to sunlight.
Eastern Indigo Snakes, however, show a marked decline in reproductive ability
after 3 to 4 years of captivity.
Since, in theory, the Eastern Indigo should have a
reproductive longevity of 10-15 years the decline in reproductive ability
constitutes a major challenge for the large scale captive breeding of the
The OCIC is designed to overcome this barrier with extensive
use of outdoor habitats that will not only make sunlight readily available, but
also afford opportunities to thermoregulate (pick the best environmental
temperature for various physiological functions), to be exposed to the seasonal
cycles of night and day, and to cool down in winter dens. Taken together, these
factors will provide the primary foundation for the long-term reproductive
success of the OCIC indigo breeding colony.
As one of the basic foundations of The Orianne Society’s
conservation strategies for the Eastern Indigo Snake, the OCIC captive breeding
facility is the final component of an impressive multi-tiered approach to the
conservation of the Eastern Indigo Snake. In combination with field research,
establishing preserves and wildlife corridors, and ongoing habitat restoration
and management, the OCIC is a critical element of The Orianne Society’s
comprehensive model for species specific conservation.
We are excited to provide these exceptional experiences for
our reptilian residents who will be making significant contributions to the
conservation of their species!