A rare snake slithered its way back home to Alabama, state officials said.
Last week’s discovery in the Conecuh National Forest marks only the second time in more than 60 years a wild-born Eastern indigo snake was spotted in the state, according to a statement from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Finding the juvenile snake means efforts started in 2006 by wildlife officials to reintroduce the federally protected species back to Alabama are working, according to the department’s division of wildlife and freshwater fisheries.
“The snake … indicates that the project is resulting in some thriving and reproducing indigos — just what we wanted! Reintroducing a species to its native range is a daunting task, and we celebrate each step of its success,” the statement from Thursday said.
During the onset of the initiative, the released snakes were bred from indigos that were captured in the wild in Georgia. “The goal is to release a total of 300 snakes over the years to improve the chances of establishing a viable population,” the statement said.
State officials are partnering with several collaborators on the project, including Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, plus zoos in Tampa, Florida and Atlanta.
The Eastern Indigo is non-venomous, but still considered an apex predator that can grow more than 8 feet long. At that length, the Eastern indigo is considered the longest snake native to North America. It preys on many small mammals, amphibians, lizards and multiple species of snakes, including the copperhead, officials said.
The first wild-born Eastern indigo found in Alabama was discovered in 2020, officials said. It measured only 2 feet in length, suggesting it was recently hatched, and had no monitoring system, which indicated it was not a released snake.
Traci Wood, a habitat and species conservation coordinator with Alabama’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, held that first Eastern Indigo found in 2020 in the Conecuh National Forest.
She said in an article by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources that she immediately recognized the importance of the moment.
“I’m not embarrassed to say that I was shaking when I held that animal,” Wood said. “This is a monumental benchmark in conservation for Alabama and the southeast region for this species.”