Followers of our website and newsletters have heard a lot
about the construction of our outdoor Indigo enclosures at the Orianne Center
for Indigo Conservation
(OCIC). With the first set of enclosures now nearing
completion, the last items to be installed are the “usable” elements for the
snakes themselves.

These elements, or “props,” are the most important aspects
of each enclosure as they comprise the real physical world that the snakes will
explore and use each day. The goal is to offer safe physical challenges to
stimulate behavioral exploration and exercise, while also providing visual and
tactile security to reduce the stress of everyday life. For example, there are
several elements that combine to produce a challenging yet stable living
environment: the position of the entrance burrow leading to the underground
bunker; the gnarled oak branches for climbing; the leaf litter and pine needles
for probing and exploration; multiple basking options; a clean water source. All these
elements will balance stimulation with psychological security, so each snake
becomes the master of its environment.

  Enlarge Photo
Eric McCarty, Director of Artistic Stone, Inc, presents the

prototype for a fabricated burrow entrance to OCIC Director

Fred Antonio and OCIC technician Courtney Russo.

The most important factor in creating outdoor environments
for reptiles is to offer choices in thermal opportunities. Preferred body
temperatures of our Indigos will depend on appropriate environmental
temperatures present in each snake enclosure. Temperatures may vary drastically
between day and night, and from summer to winter.  Our responsibility is to
provide suitable structures to mediate extreme climatic exposures, which could
prove fatal if not properly managed.

  Enlarge Photo
Sean Antonio puts the finishing touches on

simulated habitat in the new OCIC outdoor

enclosures for Eastern Indigo Snakes. The

natural environment simulation is a new

approach to captive breeding of Indigos, and

should address some challenges of propagation.

The most important element in our outdoor enclosures for Indigo
snake thermoregulation (the ability of an organism to keep its body temperature
within certain boundaries, even when the surrounding temperature is very
different) will be year-round access to underground bunkers. In the summer,
these “dens” will provide cool retreats from the mid-day sun, and during the
cold winter months they will offer the warmth that Indigos commonly seek in
gopher tortoise burrows. Guiding our temperature management guidelines is field
data collected by Javan Bauder, TOS Research Ecologist, during his thermal
ecology studies in Georgia and south Florida. The goal in each enclosure is to
match the thermal conditions found in nature to that in captivity.

In addition to providing our Indigo snakes the physical essentials
to thrive in captivity, we will also administer a behavioral enrichment program
aimed at stimulating environmental exploration and problem solving.  These
insights will also be helpful in preparing Indigos for future reintroduction
programs, so they will have the skills to adapt to ever-changing environmental
conditions.

We look forward to sharing with you in future Newsletters the
Indigo’s experiences in these novel settings. Close observation and data
collection will give us further insight into these amazing animals, who stand
as the most impressive member of our native “large snake guild.”

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