(WRBL) – Last month, more than two dozen snakes were released into the Conecuh National Forest in Alabama as part of a conservation program. The snakes are eastern indigo snakes and before the program, had not been seen in the wild in Alabama in around 50 years.

The 25 snakes were reared by Zoo Atlanta and are native to the forest’s ecosystem. The group, released on June 25, 2022, consisted of 13 males and 12 females.

Eastern indigo snakes are a keystone species of the longleaf pine-wiregrass and sandhills ecosystem of the Conecuh National Forest, and their presence has significant positive ecological benefits for the forest. They play a key role by keeping other snake populations in check, as they are known to eat venomous species, including copperheads.

Zoo Atlanta reared snakes as part of conservation partnership to restore the native species to its original range through reintroduction.

The zoo’s primary contribution is the rearing of hatchling snakes until they reach a size capable of avoiding most predators that feed on juvenile snakes. 

So far, Zoo Atlanta is responsible for rearing 100 eastern indigos for the reintroduction program.

Because the snakes were to be released into the wild, they received care and feeding in behind-the-scenes facilities where they had limited interactions with humans.

Before the snakes were released into the wild, they received passive integrated responder tags (PIT) for identification and tracking.

Eastern indigo snakes are the largest nonvenomous snake species in North America. They are native to Georgia, Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, and Mississippi, and can be recognized by their beautiful, iridescent scales, which are blue-black in color.

Having declined in population due to destruction of the longleaf ecosystem, eastern indigo snakes are currently classified as a Threatened species.

To date, more than 200 eastern indigo snakes have been released into Conecuh National Forest. Results from tracking show that previous groups of reintroduced individuals are thriving and reproducing.

Partners in the project include Auburn University; Central Florida Zoo’s Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation; Orianne Society; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; U.S. Forest Service; and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Click here to learn more about conservation programs and partnerships at Zoo Atlanta.