Memphis Zoo helps save North America’s rarest snake

Updated: Sep. 6, 2019 at 5:26 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Scientists at the Memphis Zoo are working hard to save an endangered snake species that is close to extinction and they’re close to a major break-through.

“The Louisiana Pine Snake is the rarest snake in North America,” Steve Reichling with the Memphis Zoo said. “There are probably only 200 in the wild, that’s optimistic.”

The Louisiana Pine Snake is native to Central Louisiana and Eastern Texas. Its natural pine forest habitat has been destroyed.

"That's the big problem with this snake, he's lost his home," Reichling said.

The snake is non-venomous and makes a high pitch hissing sound when under duress.

The Memphis Zoo began participating in a re-population program four years ago and so far have reintroduced 98 snakes to the wild.

Despite the hard work, the Louisiana Pine Snake is still in danger of disappearing.

“I’m not going to be at all surprised if in my life time, I see this species go extinct in the wild,” Reichling said. “We’re trying hard to prevent that and we’re making some headway but the story hasn’t been written yet and it could go either way for this snake.”

Recently, DNA from a wild pine snake was linked to a snake born in the Memphis zoo, a major development.

"That was a momentous finding," Reichling said. "One we've been waiting for since the beginning of this program."

And in the next couple days, another milestone. The Memphis Zoo will release 25 snakes at once, its largest release since the program started.

"There is a tipping point and I think we're very close," Reichling said.

Scientists hope these 25 snakes entering the wild will help the population start thriving on its own, and eventually remove the Louisiana Pine Snake from the endangered list.

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