The eastern indigo snake, native to the United States, can reach nine feet. The apex predator has striking black-blue scales and is as smooth as a stair rail. It is non-deadly and, at least in terms of its diet, enjoys socializing with other snakes, especially venomous ones. It was frequently seen as a daylight hunter in Florida, Georgia, southern Alabama, and southeast Mississippi. But by 1978, their numbers had severely decreased due to hostility from people, automobiles, and the ongoing destruction of their habitat. The eastern indigo was one of the first species to be protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act.
Eastern indigos have been significantly absent from TNC’s Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve (ABRP) since their last sighting in 1982 before reintroduced. The species, an apex predator that consumes other species that would otherwise go unchecked, particularly snakes, is essential to maintaining the ecological equilibrium. The imbalance has probably hurt many endemic species at ABRP, especially songbirds.
The release of the first 12 zoo-raised eastern indigos at ABRP in 2017 marked a significant turning point for a partnership that had been in the works for 35 years and involved TNC, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Welaka National Fish Hatchery, The Orianne Society, the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center, Southern C.
Reintroduction of 26 More Eastern Indigo Snakes
Since the reintroduction program started, 107 snakes have been released, an increase of 26 this year from the previous year’s total. This year’s snakes are two years old and were raised at the Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation at the Central Florida Zoo, the world’s premier comprehensive-based conservation organization devoted to the captive breeding and reintroducing the eastern indigo snake. It is not surprising that Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve, a part of TNC’s Center for Conservation Initiatives, is the only location in Florida designated for indigo reintroduction at the moment because it serves as a living laboratory for the advancement of restoration techniques and land management excellence, dedicated to the restoration of natural communities, the preservation of biodiversity, and education and training. These snakes will be followed and observed in the hopes that reproduction will soon occur at the preserve.
Reintroduction of twelve Eastern Indigo Snakes
Twelve more snakes were released in 2021, bringing the total number since the reintroduction’s start to 81. The 12 snakes released at ABRP at age two were hatched and raised by OCIC. Four girls and eight males, all born in 2019, were nurtured at the OCIC for a year before being moved to the Welaka National Fish Hatchery for an additional year of rearing before being released. The Central Florida Zoo’s veterinary staff has implanted passive integrated transponders (PIT-tags) into the snakes to enable identification when they are encountered after release.
Indigo Snakes’ Ideal Protected Habitat
The location for the eastern indigo snake’s reintroduction was not randomly picked—it was the Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve. The preserve, which began with an area of property known poetically as the Garden of Eden, is now one of Florida conservation’s greatest success stories. An extensive forest system that formerly flourished throughout the state, north to Virginia, and west to Southern Texas, but is now reduced to just 5% of its original map, has been entirely restored after 35 years of restoration work by TNC and its partners.