Eastern indigo snakes released into Conecuh National Forest

Published 1:00 pm Thursday, May 23, 2024

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A project to restore the Eastern indigo snake to Alabama is one step closer to its goal with the release of 40 indigos in the Conecuh National Forest on Saturday, May 11, 2024. The reintroduction project aims to establish a viable population of this threatened species within its historic range along Alabama’s Gulf Coast.

Representatives from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), Auburn University, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Zoo Atlanta and the Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation at the Central Florida Zoo attended the indigo release at the Conecuh National Forest located in Covington and Escambia counties in south Alabama.

Chris Blankenship, ADCNR Commissioner said the project will restore a missing part of the state’s coastal longleaf pine forest.

“Alabama is one of the most biologically diverse states in the country, and we’re excited to be a part of restoring a previously missing piece of our natural history,” said Commissioner Blankenship. “I am grateful to our partners who are a part of this important project.”

Jim Godwin with Auburn University’s Alabama Natural Heritage Program said the indigo reintroduction project is an example of the importance of the state wildlife grant (SWG) program for the conservation and management of rare species, not just in Alabama but throughout the country. The SWG program provides federal grant funds to state fish and wildlife agencies for developing and implementing programs that benefit species in greatest conservation need and their habitats. ADCNR’s State Wildlife Action Plan identifies 366 species that are in the category of greatest conservation need.

“With this release we will have completed another step toward reestablishing indigos in Alabama,” Godwin said. “This project also serves as the role model for the indigo reintroduction project in Florida, and for future reintroduction projects. What began as a local Alabama wildlife conservation project has demonstrated that the path to recovery is possible through successful, long-term reintroduction efforts.”

The Eastern indigo project started in 2006, and the program was able to start releasing captive-raised indigos in 2010 with 17 adult snakes released into the Conecuh National Forest. The goal is to release 300 snakes to improve the chances of establishing a viable population. The current reintroduction project is modeled on work started by late Auburn University professor Dr. Dan Speake in the 1970s and 1980s.

“Each snake that we have released in the forest is an ambassador for the partnerships that make this project possible,” Godwin said. “Each of our partners and collaborators has played an important role in helping us achieve success with returning the indigo snake to the wild.”

Traci Wood, Habitat and Species Conservation Coordinator with ADCNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, reinforced the importance of the partnerships behind Alabama’s Eastern indigo reintroduction project.

“This is a pivotal moment in the project,” said Wood. “This year we released 40 snakes for a total of 284 snakes released on the Conecuh National Forest over the past 14 years. Bringing an animal back to Alabama’s landscape after a more than 50 year absence would not have been possible without our partners. This is an exceptional example of the reintroduction of an imperiled species.”

After being released, researchers monitor the snakes’ movements with tracking devices called PIT (passive integrated transponder) tags. They also monitor the snakes with game cameras stationed at gopher tortoise burrows which are utilized by a number of animals, including indigos.

The next indigo release in the Conecuh National Forest is planned for spring 2025.

About the Eastern Indigo Snake
The Eastern indigo snake is a protected and threatened species throughout its historic range, which consists of southeast Mississippi, south Alabama, the Florida panhandle and parts of south Georgia. This part of the country was once mainly covered with longleaf pine forest, one of the most biologically diverse habitats in North America. A recent study by herpetologists determined the 84,000-acre Conecuh National Forest has more species of amphibians and reptiles than any public land unit in the country.

A decline of coastal longleaf pine habitat in the early 1900s led to the disappearance of the indigo from Alabama’s landscape. Prior to current reintroduction efforts, the last wild indigo snake observed in Alabama was in the 1950s. Longleaf pine restoration efforts throughout the indigo’s range have helped make reintroduction efforts possible. Since 2020, two wild born indigos have been confirmed in Alabama as a result of the reintroduction project.

Sometimes confused for other black snakes found throughout Alabama, the Eastern indigo has a few unique physical features and a very specific habitat range that differentiate it from more common species. The most notable features of the Eastern indigo snake are its iridescent, blue-black coloration and its impressive size. As the longest snake in North America, it can reach a length of more than 8 feet. Additionally, its diet consists of small mammals, amphibians, lizards and numerous species of venomous snakes including copperheads and rattlesnakes.

For more information about the Eastern indigo snake in Alabama, visit https://www.outdooralabama.com/non-venomous-snakes/eastern-indigo-snake.