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Memphis Zoo researchers on a mission to save snake species from extinction

During the annual release, juvenile pine snakes are taken to their indigenous habitat and safely guided into stump holes and pocket gopher tunnels.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis Zoo has teamed-up with researchers from Texas to release endangered Louisiana pine snakes into their wild habitat.

This week, Dr. Steve Reichling, Conservation and Research Director at the Memphis Zoo, along with his research team from the zoo, as well as partners from the Fort Worth Zoo, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Forest Service released 61 pine snakes n the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana.

Credit: Memphis Zoo
Memphis Zoo's Dr. Steve Reichling and his research team

According to the Memphis Zoo, this research program began in 2010, when Dr. Reichling and his team found that the wild populations were rapidly declining.  The team began a captive breeding program which involved artificial insemination as well as natural breeding, producing hundreds of fertile eggs which have been raised and prepped to be released into the wild.

The Memphis Zoo is the only zoo that uses artificial insemination to breed a reptile that is then used in conservation, which has has allowed for many more snakes to be released year after year.

During the annual release, the team takes juvenile pine snakes into their indigenous habitat and safely guides them into stump holes and pocket gopher tunnels, which is their main prey.  While doing this, they have found that snakes from previous releases have started breeding naturally in the wild.

Credit: Memphis Zoo
Dr. Steve Reichling releasing a juvenile Louisiana pine snake into its natural wild habitat in the Kisatchie National Forest

The Louisiana pine snake persists in only three tiny areas of suitable habitat and through research monitoring, it has been determined that populations continue to decline in all of the natural habitats. 

Without the leadership of the Memphis Zoo research team, the populations of the Louisiana pine snake would have been destroyed and lost to their natural environment forever.

Credit: Memphis Zoo
Dr. Steve Reichling, Conservation and Research Director at the Memphis Zoo, releasing endangered Louisiana pine snakes back into their natural habitat

The research program has been running for 12 years under the leadership of Dr. Reichling.