Sponsored by: Southeastern Wildlife Exposition
Snakes may not be as cuddly and cute as a lot of other animals, but when it comes to conservation, they are just as important.
Based in Georgia, The Orianne Society is wholly devoted to protecting reptiles and amphibians around the Southeast, although its work has extended into the Northeast and even globally. One Southern snake in particular has been a major focus for the organization. In fact, saving the Eastern Indigo snake and its dwindling habitat was the reason behind the nonprofit’s founding in 2008 as a family foundation.
It has since grown into a public charity rooted in science, research and on-the-ground conservation. The scientific research fuels the conservation work, including land protection, restoration of wildlife habitat, captive breeding and reintroduction of animals that have gone extinct, explains Chris Jenkins, CEO of The Orianne Society.
Focused on rare reptiles and amphibians, the organization has identified three species in the Southeast coastal plain in need of help.
The nonvenomous Eastern Indigo snake is one of the largest snakes in North America. It’s a top predator and needs a lot of room to roam. But only 2 percent of its longleaf pine ecosystem remains. This snake – included on the endangered species list – is making a small, steady comeback, thanks to The Orianne Society.
The organization created a preserve in South Georgia with more than 48,000 acres of protected snake habitat, and Orianne is working with private landowners to expand that preserve. In addition, Jenkins explains, the society is planting a lot of longleaf pine trees to restore the snake’s natural habitat.
About five years ago, The Orianne Society released 100 Eastern Indigo snakes in Conecuh National Forest in Alabama, marking the first time the snake had been in Alabama since the 1950s, Jenkins says. So far, the project is showing early signs of success. “We’ve really taken this comprehensive approach to this one endangered species and brought together all these different approaches,” Jenkins says.
The gopher tortoise is also a focus for The Orianne Society because of the role it plays in providing habitat for the Eastern Indigo snake. The tortoise is one of the most important species of the longleaf pine ecosystem in the southeastern U.S. Coastal Plain. Gopher tortoises dig extensive burrows in sandy soil that offer refuge to Eastern Indigo snakes and more than 300 other species.
The society is in the process of buying 100,000 acres of Gopher Tortoise habitat in the next year. “We want to move the dial and change the future of this species,” Jenkins says.
Similarly, The Orianne Society is working to protect the spotted turtle, also losing its habitat and at risk from collectors illegally acquiring the turtles as pets.
The Orianne Society is just one of several conservation groups participating in the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition , held Feb. 17-19 in Charleston. An important part of SEWE’s mission is educating children and adults about the environment and how they can support conservation efforts.
“Reptiles and amphibians – most people don’t care about those animals,” Jenkins says. “But most people can put some value on the environment, whether they’re a fisherman or a bird watcher. We live in this environment and much of what we do benefits other animals.
“We encourage everybody to look at these animals as they are. They live on this planet like mammals and birds. They are animals too, and they have an important role.”
To learn more about the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition and The Orianne Society, visit SEWE.com .