In case you’ve ever wondered what zoos do for reptile conservation, the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans has a fantastic breeding project going on. A large chunk of their reptile house is dedicated to the Louisiana pine snake. These cages are simple, and they all have two snakes in them right now- because it’s breeding season. See, the Louisiana pine snake is one of the rarest snakes in North America. It is extremely threatened by habitat loss and development, and so it has a Species Survival Plan in place to help protect it as a species.
See those enclosures? Each of those is a temporary home for a snake not on exhibit. Each of those represents a healthy adult who could potentially breed. Each of those cages houses precious genetic information. The captive population of Louisiana pine snakes is low- it started with less than 100 individuals- and only four zoos have gotten them to successfully breed, the Audubon Zoo being one of them. Females only lay three to five eggs per year, and so every potential baby snake is important. If you look at the first picture up top, you’ll see some of the things the zoo records about each snake. They note where the snake came from, how they were hatched, how old they are, and the locality. This helps ensure that the gene pool is as diverse as possible.
But this isn’t just ex situ conservation! Several hatchlings are released each year into a protected habitat. The zoos’ collective goal is to establish a self-sustaining population in a restored habitat where the species has been long extirpated. Eventually, the pine forests of Louisiana might see this beautiful snake slithering around- which wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for captive breeding efforts!