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BioPark Protects Snake Thought to Be Extinct in NM

The zoo finds rare northern Mexican gartersnakes and establishes a breeding program.

BioPark Protects Snake Thought to Be Extinct in NM

A northern Mexican gartersnake. Photo by Doug Hotle/ABQ BioPark.

July 5, 2013

The ABQ BioPark has established a breeding population of the extremely rare northern Mexican gartersnake (Thamnophis eques). Missing from New Mexico for nearly 20 years, the species was considered locally extinct by many scientists until BioPark biologists discovered three of the snakes on June 2, 2013 near the Gila River. The northern Mexican gartersnake is the rarest of eight different gartersnakes found in the state. It will likely be federally listed as an endangered species in coming months.

On June 29, BioPark Reptile Curator Doug Hotle located another three northern Mexican gartersnakes--one male and two females--and brought them to the Zoo to join one of the original males in a new ex situ breeding population. (The other two snakes initially found were studied, tagged and released on site.) BioPark herpetologists will care for the four snakes, collecting data for research and working toward breeding young. The eventual goal is to produce offspring that can be reintroduced to protected habitats in the wild.

"One of the snakes we collected this weekend was a female neonate, or one of this year's young, which confirmed that we are definitely looking at a viable population," said Doug Hotle, Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians. "Based on what we've seen so far, this is a very successful group of snakes living in ideal wetland habitat. We can do on-the-ground study to find out more about these rare garters and what their needs are here in New Mexico."

In addition to protecting the gartersnakes at the Zoo, BioPark herpetologists will continue to participate in field studies and overall population management as a member of the Mexican Gartersnake Working Group, which includes experts from U.S. Fish and Wildlife, New Mexico Game and Fish, Arizona Game and Fish, and several universities and zoos from the two states. Studies will look at overall population health, behaviors like movement, hibernation and breeding, and habitat conditions.

In a few weeks, BioPark guests will be able to encounter northern Mexican gartersnakes, along with other rare and interesting animals in the Conservation Gallery of the Reptile House, which is open daily from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. and included with regular admission. For more information, email [email protected] or dial 311 locally (505-768-2000).

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