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Alabama’s Conecuh National Forest Helps Reestablish the Eastern Indigo Snake

A partnership of federal, state and private organizations are working together to re-establish a population of eastern indigo snakes in Alabama.

Alabama conservationists are closer to regenerating a population of the threatened eastern indigo snake in the Conecuh National Forest through the release of numerous juvenile snakes on the forest. The indigo snake is North America’s largest native snake, and plays an important ecological role in Alabama’s wildlife diversity. 

Since 1978, the lustrous, glossy, blue-black, non-venomous snake was listed as “threatened” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act and is a non-game protected species in Alabama.

With over 84,000 acres of longleaf pines, the forest provides an ideal habitat for the snake’s survival and potential expansion.  The release of 18 indigos on June 16, 2010 marked the first time in more than 50 years that the eastern indigo snake was found in the wild within Alabama.  During May 2011, there was a second release of 30 indigo snakes. Both releases are part of a multi-year project through the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, Auburn University and numerous partners as a new start for the snake’s survival in the state.

Why is an increase in this snake’s population beneficial for the environment? According to Dagmar Thurmond, ecosystem management staff officer for the National Forests in Alabama, the indigo snake is a top predator in restoring the longleaf pine ecosystems.

“After years of improving the longleaf forest through prescribed burns and other vegetation management practices, returning indigo snakes to their restored habitats only makes sense,” said Thurmond.

A healthy population of eastern indigo snakes in a longleaf pine forest is an indication of an ecologically functional forest. When the population is decreased, it shows that part of the biodiversity of a forest is lost.

The U.S. Forest Service recognized the Indigo Snake Project as one of the top partnership projects in the agency’s southern region at an awards ceremony held last year in Atlanta. Several state, federal and private organizations contribute to Project Orianne which funds the program.

Some of the released snakes were bred in captivity from wild-caught snakes from Georgia through the cooperation of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Fort Stewart.  The snakes were raised at Auburn University and the Atlanta Zoo.  Each captive-raised snake with this project has been implanted with a passive integrated transponder tag for permanent identification as well as a radio transmitter to track and assess their survivorship.  Auburn University will monitor the snakes movements and survival in the Conecuh National Forest.

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