By Dr. Allison Sacerdote-Velat, Curator of Herpetology
July 25, 2018, was an exciting milestone for our conservation team. We initiated our first reintroduction effort of the threatened smooth greensnakes into a privately owned restoration site, managed by the Barrington-based Citizens for Conservation. Partnerships with private organizations like this one allow us to expand the footprint of our reintroduction initiatives in completely new ways.
This reintroduction effort is part of the multi-partner Barrington Greenway Initiative, an ambitious project with the objective of linking habitat corridors and increasing biodiversity in the Barrington, Illinois area. Through this initiative, restoration work has been carried out across ownership boundaries to promote and sustain native habitats and wildlife.
In conservation projects like this, everything takes time. The reintroduction of smooth greensnakes at this site is the result of years of habitat restoration work carried out by countless volunteers. In 2017, our team surveyed and assessed the site quality to evaluate reintroduction potential. We were excited to find that the site boasts a high diversity of native plants and appropriate habitats to support this fragile species of snakes.
Meanwhile, we continued our efforts to monitor Lake County Forest Preserve smooth greensnake populations. Working closely with Lake County, we incubated and hatched smooth greensnake nests in 2017, and after almost a year of growth, we proudly released the first group of headstarted snakes into soft release enclosures on the Citizens for Conservation’s restoration site.
Our soft release enclosures are essentially large outdoor pens built into the release site that give the snakes the opportunity to acclimate to their new environment while being protected from predators. During this time, snakes may increase their familiarity with the release site and catch insects that make up their diet. Based on past work with the species, soft release enclosures increase the snakes’ fidelity to the release site and limit excessive wandering movements. After two weeks, we take down the enclosure walls for the full release. But it doesn’t stop there. We’ll continue to monitor the site and reintroduce more smooth greensnakes into the area for years to come, all with the goal of establishing a sustaining, wild population.
Sometimes we find ourselves focusing so much on the end goal that we forget to mark and appreciate milestones like this. Really, every step along the journey is a small reward in itself – discovering healthy adults in the wild, witnessing successful hatchings, and seeing newly-hatched snakes thrive in our conservation lab. But larger milestones like this give us the opportunity to reflect on the progress we’ve made as we work to give this threatened species a second chance.