USA — For nearly 30 years the Ellen Trout Zoo and director Gordon Henley have worked to hopefully bring back North America’s rarest snake, the Louisiana Pine Snake.
A recent article in Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine’s January issue mentions Henley’s conservation efforts. Wendee Holtcamp writes in the article, titled “The Snake Underground,” that the Louisiana Pine Snake may go extinct if efforts to bring it back don’t show success soon.
In the early 1980s, Ellen Trout Zoo became the first zoo to breed the non-poisonous snakes. The zoo stopped the breeding program in the late 1980s only to restart it in 2006.
“In the ’80s we were the only place that had any interest in it for a long time,” Henley said. “We bred them and nobody wanted the babies.”
The zoo kept the babies until they died, never having the chance to see the wild.
In April 2007 the U.S. Forest Service began collecting the snakes for the zoo with the intent to breed the snakes and release their offspring back into captivity. The zoo keeps the wild snakes in a separate facility from the snakes bred in captivity.
So far the zoo has not had any luck in breeding the wild snakes. Soon, Henley plans on attempting to breed the wild snakes with a captive snake to see if that will produce any offspring.
“If it does produce offspring it is hoped they can be returned to the wild and that offspring can supplement the current population,” Henley said.
Scientists only know of two populations of the snake in Texas. They’ve discovered snakes in the Angelina National Forest and Scrappin Valley. Over the past two years, researchers have only captured six of the snakes in Texas, releasing two back into the wild. The snakes live in areas populated with long leaf pines, sandy soil and a high pocket gopher population. They live underground.
Scientists do not know for sure what caused the decrease in population. One theory is that wildfires at one time kept forests perfect for the snakes. But recent forest conservation efforts discouraged wildfires. Less fires led to fewer gophers, and in turn less of the snakes.
Researchers will continue to study the snakes in the hopes that one day they will find a place in East Texas once again. In the meantime Henley will continue working with conservation groups to breed these snakes.
“It is thought to be the most endangered snake in the United States,” Henley said. “It’s found here in our county and this is something our zoo can do that is within our resources. It’s something zoos should do. The animals in our exhibit will serve as ambassadors for the wilderness so you can learn and appreciate an animal you might not see in the wild.”